Protesters of Washington, DC, 'Yoga Tax' Have Monumental Hurdle to Climb

Members of health clubs, yoga studios and tanning salons in Washington, DC, will be subject to a 5.75 percent sales tax next year if a budget proposal is approved on June 17.

(Video courtesy of DC News FOX 5 WTTG)

When you think of famous protests in Washington, DC, you think of the Vietnam protest at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool with the Washington Monument in the background, an event fictionalized in the movie "Forrest Gump."

Fast forward to Tuesday, when a group of fitness supporters took to the steps of the Wilson Building in Washington, DC, that houses the offices of the mayor and the council of the District of Columbia. The protesters—about a dozen of them—performed eight burpees for each of DC's eight wards in front of local media.

The protest, organized on Facebook by Roam Fitness owner Graham King, came in response to a proposed tax change in which several businesses—including health clubs, yoga studios and tanning salons—will be subject to Washington, DC's 5.75 percent sales tax under a new budget. The tax, which would begin on Jan. 1 next year, would apply to memberships and training services. So a $180 per month health club membership would cost a little more than $10 extra per month.

Taxpayers could reap the benefits of $225 million over the next five years, as the Washington Post reported, but fitness club owners in DC are not happy.

"It doesn't really make a lot of sense," VIDA Fitness owner David von Storch told the Post. "DC shouldn't be taxing residents who want to be living healthier lives."

Health club owners and fitness supporters in Washington, DC, have opposed the so-called "yoga tax" in the past. A similar proposal in 2010 was met with vehement opposition and eventually was dropped.

This latest proposal caught club owners completely off-guard. As the Post's Mike DeBonis (who has been all over this story) reports, the sales tax expansion to health clubs was not in the draft budget sent to the DC Council in April, and the expansion for health clubs was not made public until last Tuesday night, the day before the proposal won initial approval from the DC council. A second and final vote is set for June 17.

"The yuppie will still do yoga," King told the Post. "It's the person on the fringe who maybe won't be able to afford to go to a gym."

In addition to King's Facebook protest page, there is an online petition against the proposed sales tax directed to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who has been the most vocal supporter of the sales tax. Mendelson told the Post it is unlikely changes will be made to the budget package.

"The fact is, it's part of a package, and all of that fits within a budget that is balanced, so to undo a particular tax would have a fiscal impact," Mendelson said.

On Tuesday, Mendelson and fellow council members who support the sales tax got a boost from The Washington Post. In an editorial, the newspaper of Woodward and Bernstein and Bradlee and Herblock voiced support for the sales tax, which also would apply to storage facilities, carpet cleaning services, car washes, water delivery services, bowling alleys and billiards parlors in DC. From the Post's editorial board:

"Of more immediate concern is whether the council will resist the lobbying underway to roll back the reasonable expansion of the sales tax to businesses that have been exempted until now, such as health clubs, yoga studios and car washes. A sales tax adds a small cost, and carving out exemptions for favored businesses is unsound and unfair. Council members need to stand firm against the pressure."

Pressure will grow, no doubt, over the next two weeks. IHRSA is now doing its part by asking all Washington, DC, clubs to speak out against the tax. However, if the budget gets final approval, health club members in DC might have to consider moving to neighboring Maryland or Virginia to get their fitness fix.

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