- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2014

Gym rats have found their fitness champion in D.C. Council member David A. Catania.

The mayoral candidate, surrounded by fitness studio owners and yoga instructors, announced his plan Friday to scrap the proposed 5.75 percent sales tax on gyms, yoga studios and fitness centers.

The fitness tax is part of a larger proposal, introduced by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, that would reduce most income taxes while broadening the District’s tax base, in part by expanding the number of services that would be subject to the city’s sales tax.

Noting his time as head of the council’s health committee, Mr. Catania said he opposed the tax because he doesn’t want to make it more expensive and thereby more difficult for people to lead a healthy lifestyle.

“One of the most important aspects of tax policy is to privilege the things you want to encourage and burden the things you don’t,” said Mr. Catania, at-large independent. “Thanks to hard work and a growing population we have a treasury that is well filled. Therefore, the need to look for additional sources of revenue, to me, doesn’t make sense.”

Mr. Catania, who has his own gym membership, said his amendement to the tax plan would offset the $5 million that the fitness tax is expected to generate by extending the phase-in of a cut to the business franchise tax.

Under the amendment, which Mr. Catania plans to introduce before the D.C. Council votes on the budget June 24, the business franchise tax would still decrease from 9.975 percent to 8.25 percent but the decrease would be phased in over six years instead of five years. The percentage difference between the proposed decreases, for example to 9.4 percent rather than 9.55 percent in the first year, would create a savings of at least $5 million each year to offset the cost of the fitness tax. In the years after the rollout, Mr. Catania believes city revenues would increase enough to absorb the cost of the fitness tax.

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser, the Democratic nominee for mayor, has also said she opposed the fitness tax. Her office did not respond to messages Friday asking if she would support her rival’s plan.

Fitness enthusiasts banded together quickly to see the the so-called “yoga tax” tossed, and if Mr. Catania’s plan is adopted by the council it could stand to win him votes in November from the newly formed health club lobby.

“Of course it will impact my support. How the two mayoral candidates respond to this will be important to us,” said David von Storch, president of Urban Adventure Companies which runs D.C.’s Vida Fitness gyms.

While Ms. Bowser might have spoken out against the tax, she’ll have to do more than that to show where she stands, Mr. von Storch said.

“She’s got to show that she’s doing more than lip service to the issue,” he said.

Others fitness buffs who gathered for Friday’s announcement at city hall said Mr. Catania’s actions would at least earn him consideration for their vote come November.

“It does say something about his character, that he is willing to put his neck out on the line,” said Ori Gorfine, of Balance Gym.

While non-committal about who she might vote for this early in the race, Debra Mishalove, owner of Flow Yoga, said she was impressed and interested in learning more about Mr. Catania’s stance on other issues.

“I’m very open to hearing more,” Ms. Mishalove said.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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