Friday, June 05, 2009

Get Phit

Some people are abuzz about the recently introduced Public Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act of 2009 (HR 2105), which proposes a tax credit of up to $1,000 per year for some people's “qualified sports and fitness expenses.”

The bill seems like a well-intentioned step in the right direction. It also looks like it needs some tweaking.

I read it to allow the entire $1,000 deduction for a single membership to a "fitness facility," but it only allows for a $250 deduction for the purchase of "any item of sports equipment (other than exercise equipment)..."

So where does a bike stand under this law? (Or a kayak, or cross country skis, or climbing equipment, or anything else appealing to someone who finds gyms and fitness centers rather unappealing?) Well, according to the press secretary of the Congressperson who sponsored the bill, up to $250 of the purchase of a new bicycle would qualify for the deduction.

Apparently that means that a bike is an item of "sports equipment," but not "exercise equipment" under the law, therefore limiting the credit for that purchase to $250. Lame.

What about new wheels? Or handlebars? Or a saddle? Is that deductible "sports equipment" under the law also?

So then what constitutes "exercise equipment?" BowFlex? NordicCross? A set of weights?

It also looks like runners get hosed in this deal, as it excludes "apparel or footwear." What else do runners buy, anyway?

In all fairness, though, I can understand the apparel and footwear exclusion because it prevents people from going to the local mall and getting tax credits for the purchase of a bunch of trendy exercise outfits and shoes to wear while shopping or going to Applebee's.

We'll see where this law goes, and what the final version will look like. And we can take take bets on whether Rep. Boehner will publicly mock it.

1 comment:

JimmyNick said...

I'm a little late to this post, but I'll still mock the idea because I know you get these comments by email, no matter when they're submitted.
My mockery: Providing a big tax credit for something like a gym or a bike isn't going to do much more than move the decimal point. The sellers will know that you, the buyer, will still be able to afford exactly as much as you could before, so the price will just go up in proportion to the government subsidy, almost dollar for dollar. Like sugar. Net gain: Just about none.
It's a dubious idea. If someone needs Uncle Sam to prod him to buy a bike, the odds of it actually getting used are about zilch.
If you buy a Bowflex or a bike, odds are better that you'll actually use it than if the taxpayer buys it for you.
And do not kid yourself: A bunch of free bikes is NOT going to curtail fossil-fuel consumption. More likely it'll increase the rate. Go to Peninsula on any given weekend to see the proof that most "bike riders" drive to their riding destination and then back home. Go downtown in almost any city to see proof that most "bike riders" do not substitute bikes for carbon transportation to any significant degree whatsoever. ("Bike-mad" Portland? 17,000 commuters per day -- out of what, 170,000?)
I'm not stupid enough to look a retarded gift horse in the mouth -- I'll take the freebies if people want to give 'em away. But frankly, I do not see it being the government's role to subsidize my healthy lifestyle. As for changing commuter behavior and suburban sprawl: The market will take care of that once gas prices rise again.

- JN