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Councilmember seeks to repeal food truck tax exemption

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans introduced legislation last week that, if passed, would nix the sales tax exemption for all District street vendors, including the popular food trucks that frequent GW.

The bill would require food trucks and street vendors to pay the same 10 percent sales tax as brick-and-mortar restaurants.

“I’m concerned with two things: leveling the playing field and the city getting its tax revenue,” Evans said.

Under current D.C. regulations, food trucks and street vendors pay a $1,500 fee per year to operate, but Evans’ bill would annul that fee and place it with the tax.

Evans said the $1,500-per-year fee was passed in 1990 and is no longer sufficient.

“It’s different now,” Evans said.

In the last two years, the number of mobile eateries has noticeably grown, adding competition for restaurants. About 488 roadway vendors and 642 sidewalk vendors operate in the District.

With budget cuts and a $600 million budget gap looming over the District for fiscal year 2012, the bill would allow the District government to obtain tax revenue from the successful food truck businesses.

D.C. food truck owners are objecting to Evans’ Vendor Sales Tax Collection and Remittance Act of 2011.

“Jack Evans has proposed these regulations without contacting a single food truck vendor and has yet to hold any public hearings,” Brian Arnoff, the chef and owner of the food truck CapMac, said.

The recently formed D.C. Food Truck Association, which includes CapMac and 16 other mobile food vendors, sent a letter to Evans last week asking him to “pause before proposing” his sales tax bill and to undertake a “holistic and comprehensive overhaul” of regulations.

The food truck association said it is not opposed to a new tax law, but wants to be engaged in the process.

Evans’ spokesman, Andrew Huff, said Tuesday the office heard from both the D.C. Food Truck Association and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.

The RAMW representing brick-and-mortar restaurants said in a news release that food trucks are good for D.C., but there should be tax equality for the mobile food trucks and carts.

“Issues related to mobile vending such as food, fire and traffic safety, as well as tax parity and effects on orderly pedestrian traffic, have to be properly considered,” Lynne Breaux, the restaurant association’s president said.

If the bill is passed by the D.C. Council, it would begin Oct. 1. A council hearing on the bill is expected to be held April 13, Huff said.