Topeka — The Kansas Senate on Monday advanced a measure that would exempt private health clubs from local property taxes.
Supporters said Senate Bill 72 would even the playing field between for-profit gyms and the nonprofit YMCA and YWCA, which receive tax exemptions.
One of the main proponents of the bill was Rodney Steven, the owner of Genesis Health Clubs, who said it was unfair his clubs have to compete against tax-exempt facilities.
Several conservative senators said the charitable and for-profit clubs should be treated the same for tax purposes.
But opponents said the measure would hurt local governments that depend on the tax revenue.
"This is just a special interest carve-out of the worst kind," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.
And opponents said it was unfair to compare nonprofit and for-profit health clubs because the nonprofits provide programs and services to the community that private health clubs don't.
Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said the bill would deprive local governments of needed revenue without giving them a say in the matter. Holland offered an amendment that would have let local officials decide on whether to grant property tax exemptions to the private health clubs, but that proposal failed 8-24.
Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, said the whole issue gave the perception of "pay to play" because Genesis Health Club owner Steven had made campaign contributions to Republican leaders in the Senate.
But Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita and chair of the Senate Tax Committee, said he received no campaign funds from Steven. "I really don't like those kinds of aspersions," Donovan said.
The bill was given preliminary approval on a voice vote. A final vote was expected Tuesday.