Tax yoga in Washington, D.C.? Over our savasanas, yogis say

For a second time, city leaders in the U.S. capitol are trying to squeeze a little more tax money out of some of the city’s fittest workers.

That’s the gist of a proposal to tax yoga studios and gyms, along with other “service providers” — i.e. barbers and hair salons, bowling alleys and car washes.

The yoga community there, apparently, isn’t taking it in savasana. Here’s the Washington City Paper’s coverage:

In 2010, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty proposed a similar tax on gym services, and hundreds of people rallied against the tax. The tax didn’t survive.

Will this one? The industries involved aren’t any happier about the proposed tax four years later. Vida Fitness announced that it plans to lobby against the proposal. It told people to contact their councilmembers to say they oppose it. There’s a #nodcyogatax Twitter hashtag going around, a Facebook group, and a petition on urging the Council to kill the tax.

On June 3, there’s a planned flash mob, in which participants will form a “burpee fence” around the Wilson Building and drop and do eight burpees for the city’s eight wards, says Graham King, the owner of Roam Fitness who started the Facebook group, in a post on its page.

I’ve been involved, in California, in discussions about changes to the tax code. Like most issues, it isn’t as simple as either side would want you to think. Services are an untaxed part of the economy, which — one can argue — is unfair to those businesses that have to pay taxes: manufacturers and sellers. I’ve heard people say that services shouldn’t be taxed because the people providing the service pay income taxes, but that’s true of the workers on an assembly line or in a clothing store (as well as the owners).

The problem, as far as I can tell with this specific proposal, is it is a tax increase solely, without any other benefit. Better proposals I’ve heard involve adding a tax on services but also lowering other taxes in ways that offset that (such as lower income or even sales taxes). And having taxes on sales and services make up more of a tax base is, typically, more stable and less prone to huge booms and busts than income taxes. (That’s been a huge problem in California.) Typically there’s also a minimum earnings cutoff — which might exclude a lot of yoga teachers.

There’s also this little coincidence: Washington this past week was named the healthiest city in the U.S. And this tax would hit the gyms and yoga studios that helped enable that — and all the corresponding societal benefits.

Sort of the opposite of a Sin Tax.

Posted by Steve