“Due to the passage of a D.C. fitness tax we must apply 5.75% sales tax on Oct. 1st”

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

“Dear PoPville,

I just received this notice from my gym. Here’s a big thanks to DC lawmakers for discouraging people to exercise.”

“Due to the passage of a D.C. fitness tax we must apply 5.75% sales tax on all products, memberships, and services offered here at the Georgetown Law Sport & Fitness Center. The price increases will take effect on October 1st, 2014. We apologize for the inconvenience and want to make sure all members will be aware of the price increase starting next month.”

153 Comment

  • It’s not a tax on gyms. They just don’t get a special exception from sales tax anymore.

    That’s good policy.

    • Agreed — I hate the spin that this is a special “workout” tax.

    • Really, why shouldn’t gyms get an exemption? There needs to be more promotion of healthy living. Just raise the alcohol and tobacco tax and luxury taxes.

      Maybe think about how a healthier city will save a lot more $$$ in health care costs which drastically outweigh the revenue generated from taxing gyms.

      • No one needs the commercial luxury gym industry to “stay healthy”, and the small amount of people who can afford them can afford a 5.75% sales tax on them much easier than the broad customer base alcohol and tobacco, which are already highly taxed.

        • What happened to go ole running, playing ball with your friends, riding a bike around the park, crunches while watching TV, and such?

      • Not to mention most fitness facilities are small businesses and this tax negatively affects that sector.

        • “Most”? Really? I see tons of nationwide chains in the fitness business. I’m not sorry to see them lose their loophole.

          • Yes, really! How many chain yoga stuidos, spin studios, cross-fit gyms, etc are there in DC???? WSC, Crunch and other chains do not make up a majority of the gyms and studios in DC

          • I bet they make up the most of the memberships and revenue though. And that is what matters strictly speaking.

            Why not get a tax exemption for the purchase of a bike? Or low calorie food? Why not exempt Whole Foods but not Safeway? A massage? A nice haircut? Toothpaste? Toilet paper? Cleaning products? Aspirin? ETC ETC ETC.

            Sometimes drawing lines is not manageable. I fail to see why gyms get any exceptions to any other arguably healthy service.

      • Because yuppies don’t need further subsidies. Most folks in DC proper are already very healthy (when compared to US as a whole). A marginal increase in gym cost isn’t likely to have any real affect on gym participation in Washington DC.

      • Tax dollars are used to fund public parks and recreation centers that promote exercise. Should they also be used to subsidize private facilities whose members are likely to have private health insurance? Sales taxes are already considered to be regressive; this exemption seems to make them more so.

        • What % of tax dollars do you actually go towards things like what you mention?

          • Not sure I understand your question. My question is: Why should taxpayers subsidize gym memberships?

          • Because it promotes an action that is generally deemed “good” by the majority of the population.

          • Where is your proof that it promotes anything? Did you choose to join a gym because you were somehow aware you weren’t having to pay a sales tax on it? I doubt most people with gym memberships even knew they weren’t already paying sales tax.

      • You know how you can avoid paying the tax and still exercise? Run around the city body slamming 5’4″ PoPville contributors.

        Should we provide a sales tax exemption on everything people should be buying, or just on the items that you buy? 7% tax on ice berg lettuce, but 0.07% tax on spinach.

      • it’s hilarious that someone who attends the GEORGETOWN LAW fitness center is complaining about this. if you want to sales-tax free, there’s a sidewalk right outside. otherwise, pay the sales tax for the thing you are buying.

    • Emmaleigh504

      Agree. Plus the people who have these memberships can afford to pay taxes.

      • It is not a matter of being able to afford something or not. Since when is affordability a reason to increase taxation?

        That is like saying people who own property can afford to pay x% more in taxes, so that is a rationale to increase taxes.

        • Well, progressive taxation is a thing. The income tax is progressive. We also have a property tax since you brought it up.

        • Progressive taxation is a thing. The income tax, for example. And there is such a thing as a property tax, though determining whether it is progressive or regressive depends on the circumstances.

        • No, it’s not like that. This is an income/sales tax, not a property tax. If someone can *afford* to buy more diamond rings, then we expect them to pay *more* sales tax. (If you want to compare it to a property tax, then the proper analogy would actually be that it’s like saying someone who owns one specific kind of property should not be exempted from paying the general property tax.)

          Anyway, if you can afford to pay for a place to exercise, when that is something you can do by yourself for free, then you shouldn’t be getting an exemption. I will be shocked and amazed if anyone who pays $50/month at WSC cancels because their rate went up $2.85/month. And I’ll be even more amazed if anyone who pays $200/month for a Crossfit membership cancels because their rate went up $11.40/month.

    • And yet haircuts and pedicures and facials all continue to get a “special exception” from the general sales tax. So where is the logic in taxing gym memberships but not those things?

      • Just because they’ve made a bad decision about another aspect of the tax code doesn’t mean that this particular tax is a bad idea.

    • No, it’s actually bad policy to raise taxes on good things. We want to encourage people to get more exercise and this will do the opposite. Healthier citizens are better in the long run. One of the stupidest moves by the Council in a long time, and I’m ashamed to see that Mary Cheh supported it.

  • How is this discouraging exercise? You pay sales tax on virtually everything else; is anyone going out or shopping less? Of course not! If you’re paying $100 for a membership, I’m sure you can $106.

    • I think retailers would argue that people are shopping less at their stores because they can buy things “tax free” online at places like Amazon (and yes, I know you are supposed to declare the items, but no one does). It is a moot point anyway because there is no better option nearby. If D.C. was closer to Delaware, I can guarantee you people would make the drive for their shopping. I grew up in MA and hordes of people swarmed to Nashua, NH for tax-free shopping.

      While I don’t go to gyms because they are so over-priced in the city (and running is free), I think there is something to the argument that it is good for a government to promote healthy living with tax breaks for various things. There are plenty of states across the country that do not tax “virtually everything” and they are not funded by Congress.

    • You kind of answered your own question — you’re discouraging it by making it more expensive. Econ 101 . . .

  • Yes, because I’m sure the people around here paying $50 a month at Gold’s, $90 a month at Vida, or $156 a month at Sports Club LA (plus the $1,350 registration fee!) will become fat couch potatoes now that they’d have to pay an additional $2.88 a month (Gold’s) to $8.97 a month (Sports Club LA).

  • Give me a break. I notice that OP doesn’t say that he/she will actually be discouraged from exercising, and I doubt many, if any, people will. I also note that OP’s gym is run by a school with very low rates, which range from free to a maximum of $60 per month. This means that, at most, OP will pay an extra $3.45 per month and probably much less.

  • Oh, boo hoo. No one deserves tax breaks more than Georgetown Law Sport & Fitness Center members.

  • Yes, yoga studios are required to charge this as well. New pricing goes into effect on Wednesday.

    • I would find it dishonest for any business–yours included–to raise prices by more than the 5.75% sales tax and then try to pass it off as something due to the new law. Meaning, if your $14 single class goes higher than $14.81, and you say to a customer, “Oh, the new higher prices are due to the ‘fitness tax’,” then you are lying to that customer.

      • Hi Anonymous, because of the practicalities of dealing with small change, our prices will actually increase to $15, which is $14.17 plus the tax. We assume that students will understand that the extra 17 cents is just a way to simplify the payment process. That said, a business can actually raise their prices whenever they’d like, and given the additional accounting and paperwork required for the new tax, I wouldn’t be surprised if some businesses did raise prices more than 5.75% to offset those costs.

        • The extra $.17 makes sense since I assume you still have people paying in cash, and nobody wants to deal with a change drawer. But beyond the rounding up to make cash transactions easier, any additional charges are simply the business raising prices to earn more money, not “additional accounting and paperwork required for the new tax law.” If your current accountant can’t handle basic tax computations without increasing his or her rates, then you need to get a new accountant, not blame having to pay sales tax on a transaction.

  • This is dumb. Mary Cheh’s automated machine written response to my letter of concern was dumb too.

    • She doesn’t get it and is not making a coherent argument regarding her position. She’s pretty brilliant and could do so if her position were defensible. It’s not.

  • The argument isn’t that those currently paying will stop going. The increase of 5.75% will hit those on the margins. Those that can barely afford to already go to a gym or those that are close to affording to sign up will be discouraged. In my opinion, health related services don’t need this tax.

    • Of what evidence do you have that gyms make people healthier? Or that gyms are health related? Exercise and movement, yes, but you would actually need empirical evidence that subsidizing gym memberships leads to healthier people There are plenty of ways that people can get exercise in this city without needing subsidized gym memberships. Making it easier for people to actively commute and get around without cars is a much bigger boon for health than gym memberships.

      Paying sales tax is not going to stop me from exercising. I pay sales tax on my athletic shoes, shorts and other apparel. Why wouldn’t I pay it for a gym membership?

      Let’s be real. In DC, most people that have gym memberships are upper middle class and above. The idea that we should get to avoid paying sales tax on a luxury is absurd and bad tax policy.

      • Your statement that “In DC, most people that have gym memberships are upper middle class and above”. I’ve belonged to gyms all over the city and most have had a pretty diverse mix of people that clearly have a wide range of incomes..

      • There in lies the issue and one side of the argument…access to health related services should not be a luxury good and further taxing it entrenches it as so.

        There is research that suggests that better access to gyms does positively influence a persons decision to engage in physical activity in their leisure time. One measure for that is gyms per capita. You seem to understand taxes a little and how they relate to a firms economic decision to setup shop so you will know that an increased 5.75% variable cost is not something taken lightly. Although the paper I am linking to here does not directly use income level as a predictor for choosing to go to a gym, it does use income level as a measurement for opportunity cost in pursuing physical activity. Physical activity takes up your time and we all know time=$ in one way or another. By choosing to spend my time at a gym I am spending my money and my overall net income is reduced. If I now have to spend more money on going to a gym, my net income will further be reduced and now I have to make a decision on whether or not that is too much of a reduction in income for my own preferences.

        Again, as I noted above, those on the margins will be impacted by this…not the wealthy and not the upper middle class. The low middle class and working poor will be impacted. You are further limiting their access to a health related service. Gyms should not be a luxury item, in my opinion.


        • Your sound economic analysis aside, none of that matters unless you think the failure of some on the margins to then join a gym is as high a cost to society as the additional services to those on the margins that will be provided because of additional tax revenues. That’s it. Gym memberships should not be a luxury item, but that does not necessitate that they be exempted from taxes. Perhaps there are special tax incentives for “affordable” gyms that are “accessible” to those on the margins rather than sheltering the higher end gym services from the many, many, many who make up the majority of memberships who are unlikely to alter their behavior because of the sales tax. Maybe if Vida offers an affordable membership to low income citizens, we could rethink the sales tax on Vida memberships. Until then, I’m simply not buying the tax shelter is necessary to promote gym use among the general population in DC.

          • I’m not buying it either. There was a Post story that came out when this began that noted that while the number of gyms has increased dramatically since 2009, there are ZERO full-service private gyms east of the river. Now that this tax is concerned, they’re suddenly concerned about their ability to open gyms in poorer parts of the city?

          • edit: I meant to say “Now that this tax is proposed”

  • I assume if this discourages you to workout, you’re also discouraged to drive, go out to eat, buy alcohol, park, go to the theater, buy clothing, get on the internet, have mobile phone service, etc.

    • It’s not that this will discourage people to work out, it’s that it will have an impact when small businesses are deciding whether they should open up in DC, MD, or VA. Sales tax directly impacts margins, and taxes in general have a dramatic impact on the commercial sector, positive or negative. This decision does matter, and 5.75% is not going unnoticed.

  • It is not a matter of being able to afford something or not. Since when is affordability a reason to increase taxation?

    That is like saying people who own property can afford to pay x% more in taxes, so that is a rationale to increase property taxes.

    • Lol, are you being sarcastic? Since when? Since progressive taxes were created ages ago.

      (yes, I know sales tax is regressive and not a progressive tax, just saying affordability is a justification behind progressive taxes).

  • From the DC Fiscal Policy Institute:

    The sales tax expansion is part of a comprehensive tax package that provides significant tax cuts for most District residents and businesses. Residents with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000, for example, will receive a tax cut of about $400. That will more than offset the roughly $50 in sales taxes on annual gym membership costs. Gyms and yoga studio owners will also benefit from significant business income tax cuts.

    Taxing health clubs isn’t anti-fitness. The Council’s tax package doesn’t create a special tax on health clubs but instead includes them in the basic sales tax. Some 22 states across the country already include health clubs in their sales tax, and DC residents already pay sales tax on exercise equipment, running shoes, and yoga mats — it is hard to argue that this deters people from exercising.

    The sales tax would not work well if it exempted everything that is good for us. The DC sales tax also applies to things like books or seeds and tools to start a vegetable garden. If the sales tax were applied only to “bad” things, it would leave the city with fewer resources to pay for things that promote public health, like bike lanes, parks, and nutrition programs.

    • west_egg

      Thank you!! Everyone with their undies in a bundle over the “yoga tax” completely ignores the fact that this is part of a larger tax package that, on net, will mean *more* money in the pockets of gym members, not less.

  • Wow- people need to take an econ class. When you tax something like this, usage goes down. The poster who mentioned those thinking about trying to afford or barely able to pay for their current membership is right. The gyms and yoga studios are going to lose those folks. Will these people quit exercising? Who knows, but this will have an impact. I sense a lot of class warfare rhetoric here. ‘If they can afford a gym membership, they can afford to pay more taxes.’ This is ridiculous thinking. When people pay more in taxes, they reduce somewhere else. It might be that the membership drops, or it might be they eat out less, or it might be they buy less clothes or a less ambitious data plan. You don’t get to tax people and expect their spending/saving habits to remain unchanged. Taxes have consequences- many unforeseen by the people who just don’t get it.

    • You are not fully informed on the issue. This is part of larger tax code changes. Income taxes on those who can “barely afford” their yoga are going DOWN as part of the SAME tax code update.
      So stop with the condescension, ok?

      • It’s funny how economics and psychology are interrelated. Here’s the thing: the rate increase on the gym membership has a noticeable and very much tangible impact. You see it every month you pay your bill. A promised tax refund that happens once a year does not have the same impact. I couldn’t tell you how much my DC refund was last year or the year before that. It ends up being (for most of us) an amount we either spend like drunken sailors on a new flat screen or (in my case) immediately put into savings. It doesn’t affect my day-to-day spending decisions. A gym membership would be considered highly elastic, meaning price changes could have a significant effect on how much that service is consumed. Taxing a highly elastic good WILL have a consequence. I’m not being condescending- I’m sharing parts of Econ 101 with you.

        • I’m glad you took 101; I liked it too. But you need to get significantly further before you’re qualified to lecture me about tax and other economic policy. It would be poor policy to legislate based on drunken sailor behavior.

    • I think its possible you need to take more than 1 econ class.

      • Yes, by all means, when one can’t articulate a cogent argument, adults always resort to name-calling….”But, but, I don’t know what you’re saying and I don’t agree, but you’re a dummy.”

        • Is this coming from the same person who said “wow people need to take an econ class”? Ironic.

          If you think the economic principles you shared above were so esoteric that someone like me doesnt “know what you’re saying”, I question whether you took enough econ 101 to get you past the add/drop period.

    • This is a dumb comment. If you honestly believe people will stop going to the gym or attending yoga classes you have a very skewed background in economics. If the fitness studios and gyms honestly believed they would lose customers due to this new tax, they would be lowering rates not INCREASING them as they do every year anyway. The so-called “gym tax” is nothing more than removing an exemption that exists specifically for gyms and fitness classes.

      • justinbc

        Seriously, as if gym memberships just stay at a flat rate for 5 years, and now THIS THING is screwing it up for everyone!

      • “If the fitness studios and gyms honestly believed they would lose customers due to this new tax, they would be lowering rates not INCREASING them as they do every year anyway.”

        Fitness studios and gyms aren’t interesting in maximizing the number of customers, they are interested in maximizing profits. In fact, it is easy to imagine that raising the price for gyms — like everything else in the world — results in reduced consumption. However, it is also easy to imagine that the increased revenue from the price hike may be greater than the losses due to some customers dropping out.

        My position on the tax hike is:

        * it’s good, as it removes a distortion from the tax code.
        * government should not be in the business of figuring out which behaviors or products are good for people and subsidizing them. Rather, if we are going to go down this road, it is much easier to identify bad things (e.g. pollution) and tax them instead of cutting taxes for good things, which are less obvious.
        * yes, some people will drop their gym memberships. I doubt it is very many, but econ 101 holds that higher costs means reduced consumption (note the impact a tiny 5 cent bag tax has had). That said, I’m OK with it. These people can either move to a lower cost gym or find other ways of exercising that are free

  • there’s no requirement that businesses actually raise their prices by the full amount of the tax. Tax incidence analysis (which I taught in econ 101) suggests that if business do that, then either the demand for or supply of the product are inelastic.

    and I agree with those saying that gyms shouldn’t by exempt from sales tax.

    • Gym memberships are most definitely an elastic good- some might say highly elastic. They are not needed like food or water. Where is your evidence that gyms are not running their businesses at the margin? With salary and healthcare cost increases, they may not have a choice in absorbing the tax.

      • The big ones sure can. I honestly don’t know about a corner yoga studio or martial arts studio, though.

      • I’m not saying whether demand for gyms and yoga are elastic or inelastic. but it could be determined by the response to the tax.

        If demand for gyms is elastic, then the price of memberships won’t go up, the gyms would absorb the tax, and some gyms (that are operating at razor thin margins currently) would go out of business. If they are inelastic, then the prices consumers pay would go up, not many people would drop their memberships, and few or no gyms would go out of business. Since they are likely neither perfectly elastic or inelastic, the effects would likely be a combination of the two.

        • Gyms are a funny business. Many of them charge their members different monthly fees. The fees fluctuate up and down and the “going rate” is fairly opaque.

          I would argue that a 5.75% increase will have very little impact on gyms or their consumers because the price paid is already inconsistent and variable.

          I would also argue that on the range of elasticity, its pretty close to inelastic – otherwise gym owners couldnt get away with predatory contracts, variable rates, months on end of membership fees without any consumption of services, etc etc. Yet “everyone” wants a gym in their neighborhood. This indicates to me that there are intangible, external benefits that consumers obtain by consuming a gym membership that transcend actual, observable, and verifiable health benefits… especially considering the incredibly large supply of free fitness activities available to the average person.

    • Elasticity is the only thing I remember from Econ 101. 😀

  • It is hard to stay in shape. This does not make it easier.

    It really should be a national priority to keep the nation healthy. Though unfortunately I’m not sure how that translates into an effective policy. Maybe if gyms found a way to give back to the community they could keep their tax breaks?

  • I already can’t afford a gym membership but I don’t not exercise because I can’t afford an official class. I don’t think higher taxes discourages exercising, especially since 5.75% is a seemingly small increase. If you can’t afford it just do something else like I do 🙂

    • justinbc

      Yep. I waste money on all sorts of other things, but I can’t imagine ever paying to do something that only requires a pair of running shoes to do on my own. This is a luxury purchase, not a necessity, and should be treated as such.

  • Freedom isn’t free.

  • It’s not discouraging people from exercising. It’s applying a sales tax to your gym membership, just like a sales tax if you bought a treadmill or set of weights for your house. If you really can’t afford to pay 5% more for your gym there are plenty of ways to exercise for free.

    Given that this sales tax will overwhelmingly be paid by wealthier residents (rather than say, increasing a gas tax which would be paid more evenly by all residents) I am perfectly fine with it.

  • Yeah, it sucks to pay another tax. But there’s no good reason that gyms, yoga, crossfit, or other personal training clubs should be exempt from the sales tax.
    How is it fair that Target charges sales tax to sell you a treadmill while WSC allows you to use their treadmill tax-free? That is not coherent taxation policy.

    • To answer your question: because we tax different things for different reasons. I could ask, how come Harris Teeter doesn’t charge me a tax for my (unprepared) food, but Chipotle charges a tax for my burrito (made up of food that I could get Harris Teeter)? Both represent food my body will use for energy. Why the taxing difference?

      • Because Chipotle is prepared food, and thus taxed at 10%.
        If you buy something from Harris Teeter that’s considered “prepared food” — say, packaged fresh sushi — you’ll be paying 10% tax for that too.

        • I think you missed my point. The previous poster was asking why one treadmill (in a gym) was not taxed while another treadmill (the one you bought at Target) was taxed. I made the point that we tax things differently for different reasons, hence my comparison of untaxed “unprepared” food at the HT and taxed burritoes at Chipotle. Both are considered food for energy, but we tax one and not the other. There are reasons for having different tax structures, and it does not imply an incoherent tax policy, as he/she suggested.

  • I’m much more bothered by the relative dearth of high-quality but low-frills and low-cost gyms (think Planet Fitness) than I am about the tax. I’d much rather pay Planet Fitness rates, plus tax, for Planet Fitness services than pay WSC rates even without tax for WSC services.

    And in all seriousness most of the big-name gyms are profitable enough to absorb the tax at no cost to their members.

    • The big chains use their inner-city gyms to subsidize their suburban gyms. Though, it’s pretty crazy that WSC in North Bethesda has rates that are only half of the rates in DC. I’d wager that HHI in North Bethesda is waaaaay higher than Columbia Heights.

      • Accountering

        It isn’t subsidizing, it is just what they can get. Also, the North Bethesda WSC SUCKS compared to the CH one. It is tiny, has way less equipment, smaller group class rooms, and way less group classes in general. Very much so an apples to oranges comparison.

      • HHI, sure, but what about age? Can’t imagine that boomers are flocking to gyms in droves.

        • Not true AT ALL. They are the ones who have the time to go to the gym. Plus, they have tons of disposable income – no student loan burden, many have paid off their homes, etc.
          Boomers make up a huge proportion of those people who take personal training sessions and are probably the top demographic for growth in the personal fitness industry as a whole.

    • I’ve never been to Planet Fitness so I’m not sure how it compares, but pretty much all the rec centers in the city have fitness areas and memberships are pretty cheap.


  • If gym memberships were health related, they wouldn’t let you work out without a certified exercise trainer with you at all times (someone with a kinesiology or exercise physiology degree, not a weekend Crossfit cert or something else equally lacking). Every workout you did would be explicitly health related to target specific goals.

    But that’s not what gyms are. Most people go to gyms without any guidance, often resulting in injuries and increased healthcares costs. Most personal trainers and class instructors have very little knowledge and are not working towards promoting health goals but rather fitness of appearance goals.

    If health is your ultimate goal, try to walk everywhere. Walk 7-10 miles a day, don’t use a car much, active commute, eat healthy, have lots of friends, be social, don’t but don’t be a drunk, try to get some vigorous exercise a few times a week and so on. None of that requires a gym membership, and the countries with the longest life expectancy don’t have the same gym culture that we do. Requiring gyms for well being and exercise is a sign of poor planning and a poor built environment. Thankfully, that largely does not describe DC and some of the surrounding areas.

    • Accountering

      I love your silly “Most people go to gyms without any guidance, often resulting in injuries and increased healthcares costs.”
      If you actually think that people going to gyms RAISES healthcare costs, I have some oceanfront property in Kansas I would love to sell you. For a fairly well written bit, you seem quite intelligent, but then to make that claim, you should be ashamed of yourself…

      • I know plenty of people who have injured themselves working out or during physical activity, including myself. I assure you that trips to the orthopedist and physical therapy aren’t that cheap.

        There are low impact, low injury-risk activities that you can do at the gym, for sure. But there are plenty of things you can do at the gym that come with a significant injury risk. My point is that people who engage in these activities without proper supervision may incur increased healthcare costs due to injury. I’m merely refuting the idea that people going to gyms will necessarily result in lower healthcare costs. It may for some people do to increased fitness, strength and mobility, but it may not be for other people who suffer injuries.

        Injury is a part of any physical activity, but without proper attention paid to injury prevention and specific health outcomes, I think it’s dubious to equate a gym with health.

        In addition, we can’t claim that gyms lead to better health outcomes without clear scientific data. We certainly know that increased physical activity does and more walkable environments do lead to better health outcomes, but gyms are manufactured spaces that people may only belong to for a limited amount of time. I would need to see evidence that they lead to long-term health benefits and lowered healthcare costs. Remember, we’re talking about giving gyms a tax break because of supposed health benefits.

        I will continue to use gyms for specific fitness goals, but I do not consider a gym to be the centerpiece of my long-term health strategy.

      • The gym membership, if it is considered a healthcare cost, would by itself raise the cost of healthcare because it does not pay for itself. There are free alternatives and the entire cost of going to the gym is marginally more than these and there are many lower cost alternatives, such as buying free weights and a used treadmill.

        Do gym subscribers have lower healthcare costs? Do they have lower incidence of heart disease and obesity than people who are physically fit and do not go to a gym? Even if you filter out all the subscribers that rarely, if ever, go… do routine gym goers have have these desired attributes? Do people who own a gym subscription workout more often than people who own a treadmill? Do people who own a gym membership have higher consumption of alcohol? Do they have more hernias? Do they abuse prescription drugs? Do people who go out running on their own and dont have a gym membership have more knee and hip replacements in their 50s and 60s?

        There are a lot of things that I don’t know, but to discount his statements as “silly” because you have an over simplified view of the “healthiness” of gyms. I don’t know the answer, but I’m not prepared to say he’s wrong.

        • Accountering

          You’re not prepared to say that the average person who goes to a gym is healthier than the average person who doesn’t go to a gym? Seriously? Sure, there are all sorts of variables that are much better covered in a 30 page academic paper, but suffice it to say, I am quite comfortable stating that people that work out regularly weigh less, and as a result have less health issues.
          I am pretty surprised I got this much push-back on a pretty uncontroversial statement…

          • Wait… you seem to to think that “go to gym”, “have gym membership” and “work out regularly” are all synonymous or at the least co-indicated. Aside from your casual assumption that weighing less and fewer health issues are strongly correlated, not everyone who works out goes to a gym and not everyone who goes to the gym really gets much fitness benefit, certainly not everyone who pays for a gym membership does.

            Weighing *less* is meaningless… not being obese is the goal. But, the people who are a healthy weight, have a healthy diet, and the proper amount of physical activity would likely see very little benefit to “weighing less”.

            And, the emphasis on physical activity also distracts from the fact that no amount of exercise can overcome irresponsible caloric intake.

            I think what I, and a lot of other commenters, object to the most is the idea that gym membership is the only, one of the only, the best, or one of the best ways to stay healthy. If that were true, maybe we should use the tax code to encourage it – but I’m not sure there’s a convincing case that it is true.

  • jim_ed

    I really do love how all the supposed progressives in this city get their tea party on when something *they* like is effected. “Wait, you want to tax my yoga? This is an affront to the free market and is stifling business with your overreaching government taxes!!!1!1”

  • Accountering

    This is stupid. I have a membership at a gym in N. Bethesda, but tend to work-out at CH or Dupont at least 1/2 time. I pay zero in taxes, because my membership is technically in MD. This DOES effect people at the margins, and is an incredibly stupid tax. Raise the alcohol and cigarette tax, that is an easy one.

    • justinbc

      If we work on the assumption that someone is truly on the margin of whether or not they should join / can afford to join a gym, then we should also assume that they would seek out on of the less expensive gyms in order to be able to do so, right? So let’s just work with under $50 a month, which would result in a tax of less than $3. Ignoring that someone who has the expendable income to spend $50 a month on a gym in the first place probably wouldn’t be too concerned with 3 lost dollars, that amount could easily be recovered by drinking less than one full beer fewer per month at DC rates, coincidentally a good health move as well. Substitute beer with bagel or something else if individual does not drink. If your gym membership is like $300 a month (as some of the plans at the Jade Fitness that opened up in Capitol Hill are), then they are hopefully bringing in enough profit to not pass along a $17 increase to you, but even if they did I doubt that person would get much sympathy from other tax payers.

      • Accountering

        But I don’t want to drink 1/2 less beer per month!
        I hear what you are saying, but my point still stands. We are not talking someone who can’t afford it, just someone who is currently paying $50/month, and is contemplating quitting, and the extra $3 is the straw that breaks the proverbial camels back. I am certainly not anti-tax, just think there are better things (gas, alcohol, cigarettes, McDonalds) to tax over gym memberships. Shoot, the 1c/oz sugary drink tax would bring in loads more money than this, and be a huge benefit to people who should be drinking less sugary crap.

        • If $35/year is going to make someone to quit their gym, then they’re using the tax as an excuse for what they want to do anyway.

        • But it isn’t a new tax!!! It’s an end to an exemption that had no reason to exist in the first place!! GAH!

        • justinbc

          While I would certainly welcome an added tax on ultra sugary sodas, it would be counter-intuitive, given the governments subsidies towards the ingredient manufacturers that provide a supply to them. Instead I would just rather eliminate the subsidies and cause the drink prices to naturally be higher and theoretically more cost prohibitive. I’m all for a leveling of the playing field in this regard, which is why I have no issue with a private company that was not being taxed now being taxed. I think I understand now the subset of people you’re talking about how might jump ship, but really those types of people are just looking for any reason to quit anyway, and likely not as concerned with the purported health benefits of said gyms. To use a fitting analogy, it’s trimming the fat.

    • #whitegirlproblems

  • I won’t pretend to be an econ expert. I took exactly one math class in college on the way to a journalism degree. But am I wrong in thinking that 10% for food is really high?

    • It’s only 10% for freshly prepared food, which can be considered a luxury item for many.

      • The irony is that the poor buy “prepared” food all the time – McDonalds, Chinese food, slice of pizza, fried chicken, etc.
        It would be interesting to hear the backstory behind the 10% prepared food tax. If I had to guess, it’s probably some sort of anti-gentrification statement that backfired massively.

        • The 10% prepared-food/restaurant tax has been around for a long time — I believe that was the rate when I arrived in this area in 1998, and I don’t think it was a recent thing then. My guess was that it was intended to milk tourists, visiting lobbyists, etc. for all they’re worth.
          Unfortunately it means the rest of us are also paying a pretty high restaurant/prepared-food tax.

        • So interesting to see where people try to grind their axes. I would have guessed that the 10% has to do with the costs society shoulders to have that food prepared: the public transportation for the workers who prepare it, the cost to cart away all the trash it generates, etc.

          • I’m not grinding an axe. But I have noticed that almost nowhere else in this country is tax for prepared foods 10%. textdoc is right, it’s been around a long time… I’ve been here 12 years and it’s always been like that. What was explained to me then was that it was a way for DC gov to get money from commuters. Seeing as how the population of DC has swelled over 100k in those dozen years, this topic just made me think that maybe that tax could be afforded to roll back a bit. But, I guess like gas prices, once they know you will pay for it, it ain’t ever going back.

          • I don’t think the 10% has anything to do with costs the D.C. government incurs to have the food prepared. For one thing, I believe commercial establishments are required to pay for private trash-hauling services. And although D.C. contributes toward WMATA, WMATA also gets funding from Maryland and Virginia, where (depending on the municipality) the restaurant tax isn’t usually so high. (I think Crystal City has a 10% or near-10% tax — I guess they must be trying to soak the guests in all of the hotels that are located there.)
            kken makes an interesting point — that perhaps the 10% tax could have been aimed at commuters. Probably fifteen or twenty years ago, commuters would have been a more monied group overall than D.C. residents, whereas now many more people who work in D.C. are also choosing to live in D.C.

        • I always considered the 10% restaurant tax a tourist/commuter tax.

    • It is absurdly high and one of the most confounding aspects of District taxation. However, this is only applied on prepared foods – restaurants, pizza slices, the Whole Foods prepared bar, etc.
      Unprepared food (produce, meats, bread, etc) are only taxed at 5%.

      • I think grocery items are tax free in DC.

        The tax on prepared foods exists is in Arlington and Alexandria as well, and theyre both around 9-10% total tax when you eat a restaurant.

        So, to recap, the places with the most restaurants have the highest taxes on prepared foods.

      • west_egg

        Incorrect. There is *no* tax on unprepared food.

    • It was increased in the late 90’s if I recall correctly… and yes, it was a backhanded commuter/tourist tax.

      When it went into effect I was pleased – it made my job (bartender) easier. It’s high, but math became easier, 10% compared to 6.5% .

  • I don’t get it. The city offers rec centers all over the place, many of which have pools, weight rooms, basketball courts, aerobics classes. Paid for by the tax dollars many of you are so loathe to part with. If you don’t want to pay extra taxes for your workout, go to the places you’ve already paid for. If you want to visit a private fitness center, then you should pay sales tax (service tax? whatever). If the extra couple of bucks each month really does strain your budget to the point where you can’t afford your membership, ask if they have reduced rates based on income.

  • It’s ridiculous that gyms trying to spin this as a “fitness tax.” No one is taxing fitness — it’s not necessary to join a gym to be fit.
    I also find it highly questionable that “people at the margins” 1) have expensive gym memberships and 2) might give up their gym memberships because of a per-month increase of a couple of dollars (depending on how much the membership is — for a non-expensive gym, the increase would be considerably less).

  • Is there any poster on here who is actually quitting their gym or not going to yoga again because of the tax? no, I didn’t think so. Im not loaded with money but I easily go to yoga twice week at 18/class. If I can afford that then I can afford 19/class. Everyone needs to calm down. if you are seirously lving down to the pennies then you shouldnt have a gym membership to begin with. DPR has lots of free places to work out.

    • Accountering

      Perhaps not quitting, but this will ensure that I keep my membership at the N. Bethesda WSC, instead of going to a DC based gym. Even if I move employers, and no longer work in N. Bethesda. So there is at least one example of someone whos behavior HAS been altered by this tax.

      • Be honest, your choice to join through the Bethesda location is not b/c of the 6% tax, but b/c their rates are much more than 6% lower (as you posted earlier this week – sorry I didn’t file away the actual numbers, but remember it being much more then 6%).
        If you no longer worked in Bethesda, and the membership there cost only 6% less than in DC but you had to make a special trip there monthly to keep that membership up-to-date, you would do that? Somehow I doubt it – it wouldn’t be worth the metro fare/ gas, not to mention your time.

      • So, you will keep the same membership? I don’t think you understand what altered means.

        • Accountering

          That was a cute dig. It would have been nice if you read what I wrote. Keeping my gym membership in Bethesda over a possibly more convenient way certainly alters my behavior.

          • So you would go out of your way to a different facility just to avoid a $3-5 fee? Maybe you should stop giving others financial advice.

      • Big difference between HAS and MIGHT

  • Anybody who only exercises because they didn’t have to pay sales tax on their gym membership wasn’t going to be able to afford a gym membership for very long, anyway.

  • So, I wonder how DC will spend the extra revenue; Hopefully to clean up the streets (I.e. Crime).

    Also, I wonder why DC decided to impose the tax since there was a surplus of $321M last year (per link below).


  • kiki

    A couple of things need to be made clear here. 1. Gyms have never been exempt from taxes. They just didn’t charge sales tax. They pay ALL the same small business, and business taxes that everybody else has to pay in this city, plus they pay for numerous other licenses and certifications. Enacting a sales tax is just another way for the government to get even more money from the business, only this time it’s from the consumer. On another note, David Catania presented a revenue neutral solution that would have eliminated the wellness tax while phasing corporate tax reductions planned in the budget over six years rather than five years.
    The solution would have kept the budget in balance, wouldn’t have cut any services and the tax relief reductions would have remained the same. But the council didn’t want to pass that either.

    • Kiki – Thank you. You’re the ONLY one to spell out the obvious. Most of the health/wellness operations in this city are actually small businesses and we currently pay over 35% in collective taxes. This 5.75% is not an easy pill to swallow because it forces is to either absorb it ourselves or pass it along to customers who view it as a selfish move in our parts.

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