Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 10, 2016

D.C.’s Yoga Tax Lives, Despite Catania’s Attempt to Kill It

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

To the outrage of many yoga and fitness buffs around Capitol Hill, a new 5.75 percent tax on health club services, including gym memberships, survived a D.C. Council vote on Tuesday.

A crowd of tax opponents sporting neon yellow T-shirts cheered Councilmember David Catania’s introduction of an amendment to the city’s budget that would have killed what he called a “counterproductive” and “wrongheaded” measure that burdens healthy behavior.

The applause that filled the packed chamber was quickly hushed by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who spoke in favor of the “yoga tax,” and predicted the fitness industry would fare just fine. Sales taxes on alcohol and restaurants haven’t slowed D.C.’s dining boom, Mendelson said. In the end, Catania’s amendment was defeated by a 9-4 vote.

“I’m also voting to tax myself,” said Councilmember Vincent Orange during debate of the measure. “Everybody knows I’ve been working out religiously for the past two-and-a-half years,” he added, boasting his Washington Sports Club membership.

Councilmember Jack Evans, chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, fears small fitness industry businesses will take a hit on Jan. 1 when they have to absorb the fee or raise rates. “If we are true to ourselves and do support small business, you wouldn’t support this tax,” he said, calculating the tax revenue only about $4 million of the city’s $10.6-billion budget for fiscal 2015.

By approving the proposal, the District joins 22 other states who already apply a tax to health club memberships, according to Councilmember Mary Cheh, who voted to keep the tax in the budget. Following the line of reasoning, other tax policy experts have used to defend the measure, Cheh said D.C. residents already pay sales tax on their yoga mats, running shoes and other fitness gear.

Cheh accused health industry businesses of trying to make the city fall prey to “phony labels,” in their quest to kill the tax.

For a place that’s been ranked the fittest jurisdiction in the nation, “adding nearly 6 percent onto the cost of being fit matters,” argued Catania, who is also running for mayor as an independent.

Mayor Vincent Gray is also against the tax on gym memberships, saying whatever modest amount of revenue the city collects in the short term will be offset in the long run if D.C. taxes fitness.

“I do not support a tax on healthier living,” Gray said in a memo to the council.

Following the vote, Catania vowed to repeal the tax in fiscal 2016 if he is elected mayor.

  • Jeff H

    If they could tax stupidity and moral obtuseness, they’d be flush with cash inside a month…

  • Howard L

    The case for such a tax is this: Yoga is one of those activities (like smoking) that creates additional healthcare costs (attributable to yoga related injuries) which are borne by the public in general (now that health insurance costs are shared). So just as we tax cigarettes to discourage this kind of activity (and those external costs), we should also tax yoga (and weight training, and I suppose softball, skiing, etc.) But a lot of activities in this category we not only fail to tax (and discourage), we actively subsidize (and therefore encourage) through government expenditures on basketball courts, public swimming pools, bicycle lanes. I’m surprised no far-seeing politician has proposed this approach as a partial solution to our ballooning health care cost problem.

    • BitterClingerDE

      This is exactly right. I’ve said for years that all those weekend warriors getting heat stroke on golf courses and concussions on softball fields need to be taxed for their burden on the healthcare system. The only real “tax-free” activity should be staying safely indoors and playing video games or watching TV.
      Of course, one alternative might be to have people who injure themselves pay for their medical costs out of their own pockets. Wait, that’s crazy talk!

  • bggatbdl

    I am very happy to see rich white people being taxed higher, because they get all smug about going to the gym and have a superiority complex. Because of Republican policies, the women, children, minorities, and gays in D.C? Are being denied badly-needed social services and they need to get creative to fund those programs.

    • obamaiscarter

      Yeah, because of Republican policies in a city that has never been run by a Republican. You are undoubtedly a complete idiot and a bigot as well.

  • Scott Smith

    Although participation in democratic processes is often confused with liberty, it is not true that those too young to vote lack liberty.

  • Jack Ryan

    Where new ways of doing things are prohibited, we reach a point where our current knowledge shackles us to the known ways of today.

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