Q. Why are you opposing a municipal facility that will be open to seniors and children?
A. That’s not what we oppose. The adult fitness party of the facility mimics the facilities and amenities offered by taxpaying health clubs nearby. The government has no business being in business, and competing directly with its own taxpayers. That hurts the existing tax base, and prevents further growth of the tax base. Programs for seniors and children are great, but this proposal far exceeds the solution required to meet those needs.
Q. What’s wrong with giving the consumer more choice when it comes time to joining a health club?
A. Taxpaying fitness clubs welcome business competition on equal terms. That’s what drives innovation. But providing athletic facilities and fitness-related services is a good and useful business that does not require subsidies from the public sector. What’s more, if the municipality builds this facility, that will be a disincentive for more taxpaying clubs to enter the market. It would ultimately give the consumer less choice.
Q. Would a government health club be more stable than a taxpaying club?
A. If you mean the ability to operate dependently and cost-effectively, building a government health club is not the best choice. The municipality does not have the experience to run the facility it is proposing to build. There is absolutely no guarantee that government can operate a business like this efficiently, and in fact, everyone has plenty of stories about how inefficient government is. It is the nature of government to conceal true costs and paint overly-rosy scenarios. Government has absolutely no incentive to concentrate on customer satisfaction. The taxpayers need to keep in mind that if this facility loses money, it doesn’t matter to the municipality. They can always float another bond or cut other critical core services to cover their losses. In the end this proposal could cost much more than what’s on paper now.
Q. What’s wrong with making our municipality a more attractive place to live and work?
A. Quality of life in our municipality is a very important goal, but we disagree with the notion that building a government health club is the way to do that. We suggest that other priorities are much more important. For instance, many taxpayers would like to see taxes reduced or even stay the same, rather than going up all the time. We have roads and streets to fix and maintain, and other capital investment needs that are much more important. A complete spectrum of social challenges could use more funding, whether it’s programming for drug addiction, homelessness, unwed mothers, mental health services, improvements to the schools, and so on. These are the things that we charge the government with solving. Opening a business to compete against its own citizens is not one of the core functions of government.
Q. What about the argument that if the municipality opens this facility, people will be healthier and health care costs will go down?
A. The return on investment is not big enough, and here’s why. A national study reports that only 13% of Americans belong to a fitness club or fitness center. When a government fitness facility duplicates services already offered by taxpaying health clubs, then taxpayers are bearing costs for services for nearly 90% of them will not use. The proposal is not a smart and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
Q. Should private fitness clubs just stop whining, and learn to compete in the marketplace?
A. We are not whining. We are raising a public policy question. We pay taxes, and we suspect that other taxpayers might be concerned if they understood that the government is working against the average taxpayer by proposing to operate a health club. We do compete in the public marketplace, every do, and we do it successfully. Because we own this business, however, does not mean that we forfeit our rights to raise an important tax issue.