Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Some Say Gym Tax Could Derail State Fight On Obesity

“Governor David Paterson has proposed to boost the sales tax on health club fees and services four percent to raise more money to fix New York's ailing economy. Yet many gym members would be feeling the burn in their wallets. ‘I think it is ridiculous. I think you should tax fat food and tax pollution, something that is more negative,’ says gym member Susan Cappozzoli. ‘If anything, they should be subsidizing gym memberships and decreasing gym memberships so you could encourage people to go to the gym and avoid obesity and other health issues,’ says gym member Joel Feliciano. Analysts from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association say an additional tax would be just yet another financial hurdle for new fitness club memberships, which have already decreased in some areas because of the economy. The fitness industry is also reacting by lobbying against the tax in Albany. Clubs like Equinox have been emailing members on-line, encouraging them to ask lawmakers to block the tax. ‘We think the tax is just a big disconnect from Governor Paterson's direct state policy of promoting a healthy lifestyle,’ says Equinox chief operating officer Scott Rosen. Paterson previously said he would tax sugary sodas to help fight obesity, but some wonder whether taxing gym memberships will undo his health advocacy. ‘New York State spent $1.6 billion last year for health care costs for obesity. To have this tax discourages maintaining a well-balanced diet and health and fitness,’ says Senior Vice President David Kastin of Town Sports International. ‘I would double up the tax on sodas and leave fitness clubs alone.’ State health officials are defending the tax proposal, which is still subject to approval by the State Legislature. ‘The tax on health club memberships is something we're doing to raise revenue. There's plenty of other ways as [State Health Commissioner Richard] Daines said, that folks can get out and exercise, particularly children,’ says State Deputy Health & Human Services Secretary Joe Baker. Rosen says that argument leaves a lot out of the equation. ‘Many of our members can't do it on their own,’ he says. ‘They need our energy or our space, or our equipment or our staff and our trainers, our group fitness programs. So it’s not just about, ‘Where do I exercise?’”

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