With the start of the Serie A season already in jeopardy because of a contract dispute, Italian football players and clubs are now debating who should pay a new ''solidarity tax'' imposed by the government as part of its austerity package.

Gazzetta dello Sport estimated the tax for high-earners would cost Serie A teams about ?50 million ($72 million).

The measure has already caused a landslide of protests in Italy, which is trying to clean up its public finances to avoid becoming the next victim of Europe's debt crisis. Citizens face a 5 percent additional tax on income above ?90,000 ($128,250) and a 10 percent additional tax on income above ?150,000 ($213,750).

In the Serie A, the debate could soon turn into a battle, adding to tensions as the two sides discuss the renewal of the players' collective bargaining agreement. The players have already threatened a strike if the agreement is not signed before the start of the Serie A season on Aug. 27-28.

AC Milan vice president Adriano Galliani says the players, not the clubs, should pay.

''Those making ?90,000 will have to pay it, I don't see why those who make millions shouldn't do it,'' Galliani was quoted as saying in Corriere della Sera. ''Otherwise, as far as I'm concerned the players can go on strike for the rest of their lives.''

Milan is owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose government approved the measures.

Galliani said that ''over the next few days this will be a very hot issue.'' The league running the Serie A is expected to take up the issue when it meets Friday.

According to Gazzetta, most top players, especially foreign stars, negotiate their net income upon joining a team, and it's then up to the club to handle their fiscal obligations. This was allowed under the old collective agreement, but the new one - yet to be signed - does away with this option, leaving it up to the players alone to pay their taxes, Gazzetta reported.

The conflict between the players and the league has been going on since the last collective agreement expired in June, 2010. The players set two strike dates during the last season, both of which were avoided with last-minute verbal agreements. But the league never actually signed off on the deal.

Under the current negotiations, the players association opposes a proposal that would allow clubs to force unwanted players to train away from the first team or accept a transfer.