News & Politics

DC Council Chairman Says “Yoga Tax” Will Stay in Budget

Phil Mendelson is ready to go to the proverbial mat over taxing yoga mats.

Photograph via Shutterstock.

DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is not flexible on a proposal to expand the city’s sales tax to include fitness clubs, yoga studios, and other personal services, he said in a radio interview Friday.

Mendelson, in the middle of the DC government’s annual budget process, became the target of the fitness community’s ire last week when the Council passed a budget that will levy a 5.75 percent sales tax on, among other things, gym memberships, fitness classes, bowling alleys, carpet cleaning services and other items. While carpet cleaners don’t have a big lobby, the Council has found itself on the receiving end of objections from DC’s buffest residents, a few of whom even showed up to the Wilson Building this week to do protest burpees.

Fitness clubs like Vida and Sports Club/LA have also sent their members mass emails imploring them to call their Council members and speak out against the “fitness tax” or “yoga tax,” some of the Frank Luntz-quality terms that are being used to describe the tax. Mayor Vince Gray also said this week he’d like to see the tax stripped out when the Council takes its second vote on the budget next week.

But Mendelson won’t be swayed, telling an angry—and possibly sweaty—caller on WAMU’s The Politics Hour that the tax will stay.

“We’ve been taxing athletic equipment and athletic equipment gear for years and nobody has objected to that,” Mendelson said. Besides, he added, the tax rewrites in the Council’s budget document are the ideas of a commission led by former Mayor—and full-time workout enthusiast—Anthony Williams.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.