But, when it comes to free agents and the Raptors, the one theme that constantly comes up by media and fans alike is taxes. Jalen Rose, former Raptor and current broadcaster once said, “Why hasn’t Toronto been a place that’s attractive for free agents? Because you have to pay Uncle Sam and the Queen!”
Would Canadian taxes eat up the additional salary that Toronto can offer?
Canadian tax rates are higher than in the United States, there’s no denying it. But are they the deal-breaker the media makes us believe? Let’s look at how athletes, like Kawhi, are taxed in Canada.
Kawhi is an employee of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, working at their Toronto location, Scotiabank Arena. He gets a paycheque like any other Canadian employee. (His just has a lot more zeros!) The top tax rate for an employee residing in Ontario is a combined federal and provincial rate of 53.5 percent. So, on a salary of $38M, his taxes would be approximately $20.3M.
Compare that to a player living in Los Angeles. An employee of a California-based team will pay U.S. federal tax at a top rate of 37 percent and California state tax at a top rate of 13.3 percent, yielding a combined tax rate of 50.3 percent. So on those same earnings of $38M, he’d pay $19.1M in tax. But you’ve read enough of our articles by now to know that’s not the end of the story!
The U.S. has very expensive social security taxes—a maximum of approximately $8,000, compared to $2,700 (USD) in Canada for Canada Pension Plan and employment insurance. In the U.S., a Medicare tax of 2.35 percent is also added to your paycheque for another $893,000. (Medicare is an often-overlooked factor when it comes to comparing taxes for athletes on Canadian versus U.S. teams.) Now take another look: the difference is much more palatable –approximately $300,000—a difference of less than 1 percent!
Let’s now look at Kawhi’s situation specifically. If he chooses to re-sign with the Raptors, Kawhi would likely remain a tax resident of the U.S. As such, he’d be taxed there on his entire salary. And yes, he’d pay the CRA as well—but they can only tax employment earnings for days worked in Canada. Using the 2018 calendar year as an example, the Raptors calculated that their players spent 66 percent of their working days in Canada. Thus, only two thirds of his salary would be taxable in Canada. Credits are available in the U.S. for taxes paid in Canada, meaning effectively that a player pays the higher of either the Canadian tax rate or the U.S. tax rate on his working days in Canada.