#DontTaxWellness Coalition protests against D.C. gym tax

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - A handful of yoga, fitness and health advocates who call themselves the #DontTaxWellness Coalition showed up on the steps of the Wilson Building Thursday morning to protest a controversial tax the D.C. Council recently approved - a 5.75-percent sales tax increase on fitness centers in the district.

Opponents say the tax, which would go into effect on Jan. 1, will discourage health and exercise, and reduce the demand for such wellness services.

"People, when they sign up for gym memberships, a lot of them are on budgets," said fitness trainer Devon Maier. "A lot of them look at it as a luxury and they know that they're supposed to do it, but they don't have the money to do it."

The protesters had a passionate discussion with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson Thursday, who proposed the tax hike - but Mendelson didn't seem to budge on the issue, which exempts large hotel chains.

Local business owners say their profits will be significantly affected.

"They put this in without consulting with us, without checking in on the pulse of our industry - the fitness and wellness industry," said yoga studio owner Debra Mishallve.

Protesters on Thursday pleaded with Mendelson to at least give them the time to prove to him that moving forward with the tax increase would not only adversely affect the local industry, but set back one of the healthiest cities in the country.

"It's just going to be another reason for someone to put off exercising and get in shape," said Meier.

ABC7 reached out to Mendelson for comment, but he has not yet responded.

There is a vote scheduled for June 17 on the city's budget, which includes the fitness tax.