"Fitness Tax" draws protest at Wilson Building

On the 3rd of June, staffers and customers from several gyms showed up in front of the Wilson Building to oppose extension of sales taxes to gyms and health clubs, calling it the "fitness tax." They complained about getting only 18 hours notice of the proposal, one that sank the last time it was introduced.

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There is a lot more to this than first appears. First of all, that5 18 hour notice deal reminds me of when the City Council scheduled a 2007 hearing on closing the West End Library (for a condo project) for the 5th of July.

The overall bill is a proposal to collect sales tax on things like health clubs and laundry services that are now exempt. Sales taxes are regressive as the rich don't spend all their money but the poor do. The revenue is to be used to reduce progressive income taxes that yuppies have been screaming about for years. Nowhere is the Fox News stories and social media complaints about the fitness tax has anyone realized that a progressive tax is being cut with the cut funded by an increase in a regressive tax.

There are a lot of nuances to this: On the one hand, yoga studios and spinning gyms are notorious for being some of the first facilities popular with upscale whites to open in neighborhoods of color. I know of one place where a spinning gym brought complaints to police about local residents and now several "new neighbors" have joined the chorus and things are getting hot. Probably condos are next.

On the other hand, gyms popular with upscale whites in gentrification neighborhoods are only a small fraction of the total of all gyms in DC. The best way to stop them from poaching on residential neighborhoods of color would be to zone them out, but you can bet that's not what the City Council is trying to do.

There is also an ugly historical and GLBT angle to this: two of DC's gay clubs that survived the baseball stadium are legally considered gyms or health clubs, and they would be hit with this tax. The closure of all the lower priced facilities to make way for the baseball stadium, followed by the 2009 attack on the Men's Parties by city inspectors, has tripled the cost of using these facilities. Now, after eminent domain and harassment, the city is back for another bite at the apple, this time another cost increase. Of these two clubs, the one that is in an African-American neighborhood as a majority African-American clientele and the other is on 14th st. Neither one is a gentrification driver in any way. All of this while the city proposes to evict a Gay community center in the Reeves Center so that building can be part of a land swap deal for ANOTHER stadium, that $300M soccer stadium.

The sales tax extension goes far beyond gyms anyway. The inclusion of storage facilities in the proposal taxes people seeking to store furniture after being evicted. The inclusion of laundry facilities harms lower income folks who live in public housing. In short, this tax "reform," like the flat tax, is engineered to provide tax relief for those with a lot of income to tax at the expense of everyone else. "Professional services" are not included in the tax extension, no doubt for fear this would harm those with enough money to be a source of campaign cash or even the campaign cash "bundlers" and campaign managers themselves.

It may not even save money for the rich. They get lower income taxes, but may pay higher health insurance premiums as students and marginal yuppies forego their gym memberships and have another burger instead.

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