Mayor opposes so-called ‘yoga tax’; bill’s fate uncertain

WASHINGTON — Despite opposition from operators of health clubs and personal trainers, the D.C. Council approved a plan on Tuesday that would extend the city’s sale tax to gym memberships, dance and yoga classes and personal training.

Hours later, the D.C. mayor’s office spoke out against the tax, citing the District’s “serious problem with obesity.”

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent Gray, says “every option remains on the table,” and the mayor has not yet decided whether he’ll sign the bill.

Ribeiro says the plan put forward by the council raises taxes for some, and while it cuts taxes for others, the tax cutting is too meager, particularly for senior citizens.

Supporters of the plan, including Councilwoman Mary Cheh, point out that the tax is part of a restructuring plan intended to broaden the tax base and lower residents’ tax rates.

Cheh bridled at opponents branding the tax a “yoga tax” or a “wellness tax.” “We apply a sales tax to your yoga mat is that a yoga tax? We apply the sales tax to your running shoes, my running shoes, and other sporting equipment, is that a tax of wellness?” Cheh argued.

Tax opponents believe the tax will add $60 to $80 a year to fitness club memberships in the city.

Early Tuesday, members of the fitness community weighed in.

“It’s already difficult enough to convince people to spend their hard-earned money on specialized classes and what this does is just make that cost a little bit more,” says Tamara Berger, owner of Off Road Indoor Cycling, a small fitness studio focused on cycling, boxing and boot camp-style training.

Physical trainers and others connected with health club operations, sporting bright yellow T-shirts reading “Don’t Tax Wellness,” filled most of the seats in the D.C. Council chamber for the vote.

“A doctor can prescribe a pill and that pill won’t be taxed; a doctor can prescribe a woman for prenatal yoga classes but that’s going to be taxed? That doesn’t make sense to us,” says Dustin Canter, who operates a business that helps connect individuals to health care services, including classes, clubs and professional training.

When the final vote came on the budget resolution including the tax, it passed overwhelmingly with just one council member, Tommy Wells, abstaining.

The budget resolution is now bound for Mayor Vincent Gray’s desk.

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