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What is the "Jock Tax"?

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Last week, Deadspin posted a tipster's shot of Andrew McCutchen's bi-monthly paystub. It features some pretty large numbers that are liable to make you wish you'd tried a little harder in Little League. But you can also see that he gets taxes taken out of his paycheck in a number of states and cities. In fact, there are so many deductions that after Pittsburgh, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, St. Louis, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Arizona, Ohio, and Cincinnati the list continues on another (unshown) paystub.

Those numbers reflect the so-called "Jock Tax," which requires traveling professionals to pay income taxes in every state where they earn money. The colloquial name comes from the fact the tax, which can technically be applied to anyone who earns money in a state where they don't live, is essentially only ever levied against professional athletes because of their publicly-known salaries and traceable work schedules. (Athletes generate so much money in taxes that some states, like California, have specialized employees in their revenue departments who work exclusively on athletes’ tax returns.)

The earliest mention of applying this law to athletes in particular comes from an incident in 1968 when an appeal was brought before the State Board of Equalization of the State of California for taxes owed by a player on the San Diego Chargers who didn't live in the state.

But it didn't start to be enforced in full until 1991. In the NBA finals that year, the Chicago Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers four games to one. As the story goes, the officials in California who had influence on these things were so enraged by the loss that they decided to take it out by levying taxes against Bulls' star Michael Jordan on the bountiful earnings and winnings he'd made while playing in their fine state. In response, Illinois passed a bill that was colloquially known as "Michael Jordan’s Revenge," which imposed their income tax specifically on anyone from a state that taxed Illinois residents. Or, athletes from California.

Since then, more than a dozen other states passed their own bills to tax out-of-state athletes for the games played there, and even a few cities followed suit. By now every state with a professional sports franchise, with the exception of Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Washington, and the District of Columbia, imposes the "jock tax." Lawmakers tout these taxes as a way to fund athletic venues without saddling constituents with the full cost.

For athletes raking in serious salaries, these daily taxes can add up. Especially if there are winnings involved. For the 2014 Super Bowl held in New Jersey, players on both the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks were taxed for their time in the state at a rate of 8.97 percent. A fraction of their oversized income is added to whatever bonuses they earn—$92,000 per player for the winning team, $46,000 for losing players—and even the Super Bowl ring, normally valued at $20,000 to $25,000, to calculate the earnings to be taxed. Although the Broncos ended up losing, if they had won, Peyton Manning, who made $15 million last year, would have owed around $60,000 in taxes.

Of course it's easy to say athletes can afford it. But the staff that travels with the team, like trainers and equipment managers who don't make millions, also have to pay taxes to every state in which the team plays.

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Big Questions
What Causes Sinkholes?
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Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

This week, a sinkhole opened up on the White House lawn—likely the result of excess rainfall on the "legitimate swamp" surrounding the storied building, a geologist told The New York Times. While the event had some suggesting we call for Buffy's help, sinkholes are pretty common. In the past few days alone, cavernous maws in the earth have appeared in Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and of course Florida, home to more sinkholes than any other state.

Sinkholes have gulped down suburban homes, cars, and entire fields in the past. How does the ground just open up like that?

Sinkholes are a simple matter of cause and effect. Urban sinkholes may be directly traced to underground water main breaks or collapsed sewer pipelines, into which city sidewalks crumple in the absence of any structural support. In more rural areas, such catastrophes might be attributed to abandoned mine shafts or salt caverns that can't take the weight anymore. These types of sinkholes are heavily influenced by human action, but most sinkholes are unpredictable, inevitable natural occurrences.

Florida is so prone to sinkholes because it has the misfortune of being built upon a foundation of limestone—solid rock, but the kind that is easily dissolved by acidic rain or groundwater. The karst process, in which the mildly acidic water wears away at fractures in the limestone, leaves empty space where there used to be stone, and even the residue is washed away. Any loose soil, grass, or—for example—luxury condominiums perched atop the hole in the ground aren't left with much support. Just as a house built on a weak foundation is more likely to collapse, the same is true of the ground itself. Gravity eventually takes its toll, aided by natural erosion, and so the hole begins to sink.

About 10 percent of the world's landscape is composed of karst regions. Despite being common, sinkholes' unforeseeable nature serves as proof that the ground beneath our feet may not be as solid as we think.

A version of this story originally ran in 2014.

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Big Questions
How Are Speed Limits Set?
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When driving down a road where speed limits are oppressively low, or high enough to let drivers get away with reckless behavior, it's easy to blame the government for getting it wrong. But you and your fellow drivers play a bigger a role in determining speed limits than you might think.

Before cities can come up with speed limit figures, they first need to look at how fast motorists drive down certain roads when there are no limitations. According to The Sacramento Bee, officials conduct speed surveys on two types of roads: arterial roads (typically four-lane highways) and collector streets (two-lane roads connecting residential areas to arterials). Once the data has been collected, they toss out the fastest 15 percent of drivers. The thinking is that this group is probably going faster than what's safe and isn't representative of the average driver. The sweet spot, according to the state, is the 85th percentile: Drivers in this group are thought to occupy the Goldilocks zone of safety and efficiency.

Officials use whatever speed falls in the 85th percentile to set limits for that street, but they do have some wiggle room. If the average speed is 33 mph, for example, they’d normally round up to 35 or down to 30 to reach the nearest 5-mph increment. Whether they decide to make the number higher or lower depends on other information they know about that area. If there’s a risky turn, they might decide to round down and keep drivers on the slow side.

A road’s crash rate also comes into play: If the number of collisions per million miles traveled for that stretch of road is higher than average, officials might lower the speed limit regardless of the 85th percentile rule. Roads that have a history of accidents might also warrant a special signal or sign to reinforce the new speed limit.

For other types of roads, setting speed limits is more of a cut-and-dry process. Streets that run through school zones, business districts, and residential areas are all assigned standard speed limits that are much lower than what drivers might hit if given free rein.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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