Relax, D.C. Yogis: Legislator Moves To Scrap New Tax On Gyms And Yoga Classes | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Relax, D.C. Yogis: Legislator Moves To Scrap New Tax On Gyms And Yoga Classes

As part of the 2015 D.C. budget, yoga classes and gym memberships would be taxed at 5.75 percent.
Dave Rosenblum: https://flic.kr/p/fMPWwA
As part of the 2015 D.C. budget, yoga classes and gym memberships would be taxed at 5.75 percent.

Council member David Catania (I-At Large) will introduce an amendment to the 2015 D.C. budget scrapping a proposed tax on yoga classes, health clubs and gym memberships.

Catania, who is also running for mayor, said his plan would remove the so-called "fitness tax" from the budget by extending the implementation of a business tax cut over six years, instead of the five originally planned.

Speaking alongside gym owners, yogis and personal trainers at a press conference on Friday afternoon, Catania said that any revenue gains for the city from the tax were outweighed by possible impacts on residents' health.

"Making it more difficult for people to access gyms and studios and making it more expensive for people to keep themselves well actually does bring about an increased cost for all of us," he said. "For every sedentary individual who will be precluded or discouraged from participating in a healthier lifestyle because of this tax, keep in mind that the consequences and costs associated with that lifestyle will be shared by all of us."

The tax was proposed last December by the D.C. Tax Revision Commission, which recommended expanding the city's 5.75 percent sales tax to include a number of services, ranging from home water delivery to bowling alleys and billiard halls. The commission also recommended lowering the city's income tax rates for more residents, as well as decreasing business taxes.

Mayor Vincent Gray left the taxes on services out of his 2015 budget proposal, but they were added by D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson and passed on a first vote in late May.

The tax quickly drew opposition from gym owners and yoga fans alike, prompting online campaigns and petitions asking that the tax be removed from the final budget. Speaking on The Kojo Nnamdi Show last week, Mendelson predicted that it would survive.

Proponents of the tax, including the liberal-leaning D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, argued that it was part of a package of tax reforms that would benefit a large swath of residents.

"This isn't about a special tax on health clubs. It's about including health clubs in the sales tax that we pay every time we buy all sorts of things that are good for us, like tools to plant a vegetable garden," said Ed Lazere, the group's director.

"It just wouldn't work if our sales tax were limited to things that we considered bad. It would be really hard to figure out and more important, we wouldn't have resources to be used for things like bike lanes, parks and rec centers, or nutrition programs. The sales tax only really works when it covers as much of what we buy as possible," he added.

Mendelson said that yoga studios and gyms would see their business taxes decrease under the plan, and doubted that a 5.75 percent tax would drive people out of gyms and studios.

"At 5.75 percent... we're just not going to see that people are going to be deterred from health club memberships," he said. "If your membership is $100 a month, and I think a lot of them are less than that, you're going to pay another $5.75. Is that really going to make or break you?" he said.

Juliet Stovall, a personal trainer at Vida Fitness on U Street NW, admitted that many gym-goers could afford to pay the tax, but argued that it would most severely affect residents who need a gym or yoga studio to stay healthy.

"People do have disposable income that come to Vida, and they can afford it. They really are not that concerned about the tax. But it's for everybody, it's not just for the people with disposable income. We're looking out for other people because there are a lot of people that come to the gym that do not have disposable income — older people, black people, and they want to have access to they gym also," she said.

Catania said that he had no yet approached his colleagues about his plan, but would start lobbying them next week. (Council member Jack Evans has also said he's opposed to the tax.) The final vote on the budget is set for June 24.

Yogis and gym-goers aren't taking it for granted: They plan to continue lobbying the Council next week, and will gather at Freedom Plaza Monday at noon for a fitness class aimed at rallying opposition to the tax.

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