Judge rules Pittsburgh ‘facility fee’ for professional athletes unconstitutional

An Allegheny County judge ruled that the fee that the City of Pittsburgh levied against professional athletes who play here is unconstitutional.

According to our news partners at the Trib, the judge’s order said the city is no longer allowed to collect the fee.

The case was brought to court by three athletes and player associations representing Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and National Football League, the Trib reports.

The lawsuit began in November 2019 and was spearheaded by former Pittsburgh Penguin Scott Wilson, now-retired MLB outfielder Jeffrey B. Francoeur and NHL right winger Kyle Palmieri, the Trib said.

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The facility fee applied to all athletes who used the city’s sports venues, including Acrisure Stadium, PNC Park and PPG Paints Arena. Athletes who live in Pittsburgh paid a 1% assessment, while athletes who live elsewhere were charged a 3% assessment on their personal income earned while in Pittsburgh.

The Trib reports that each league was charged a different facility fee. NFL players paid based on “duty days” in Pittsburgh, including games and practices. NHL and MLB players paid based on dividing the total number of games played in the city by the total games from the season as a whole.

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The lawsuit showed Francouer paying $510 to the city for three games played at PNC Park in 2015 when he was with the Phillies, and $758 for three games in 2016 when he was with the Marlins. Palmieri said in the lawsuit he paid $1,902 in 2016 and $4,705 in 2018 for games played at PPG Paints Arena. Wilson played 33 games there in 2016 and paid $5,970 in taxes that year, according to the Trib.

The Trib also said that the players said in the lawsuit that Pittsburgh’s fee was actually an illegal tax because it treated resident and nonresident athletes differently. They argued that the Pennsylvania Constitution requires uniformity in taxes across the same class of subjects.

The judge agreed, saying that the fee was a “clear violation” of the uniformity clause, according to the Trib.

The judge also wrote that under the law, the money collected from a facility fee is to be used to reimburse the licensing authority for its work.

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