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Proliferation of Food Trucks May Prompt Change in Law

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The D.C. Council is considering changing the rules so food trucks have to pay sales tax.
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The D.C. Council is considering changing the rules so food trucks have to pay sales tax.

When the law was written in 1992, the only food trucks around were the hot dog and ice cream trucks that line the National Mall. These were cash-and-carry operations deemed not suitable for a sales tax, so lawmakers settled on a $1,500 annual fee.

Fast forward nearly two decades. Food trucks have become big business: lobster rolls, cupcakes, pies -- you name it, and someone is probably selling it.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who wrote the original law governing vendors in 1992, says he is looking at ways to update the law so these new food trucks pay the city's 10 percent sales tax.

The move is one that is sure to fuel the continuing debate between brick-and-mortar restaurant owners and mobile food vendors. The two sides have been at odds for more than a year, as restaurateurs argue that the trucks have an unfair advantage in not having to pay rent or sales tax.

This issue was the subject of much debate on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show Wednesday, as Kristi Whitfield, owner of Curbside Cupcakes truck and executive director of the newly formed D.C. Food Truck Association discussed the issue with Nnamdi and Marvelous Market Capitol Hill owner Seth Shapiro.

Evans says the food truck vendors are not averse to paying a sales tax, but there are changes that could be made in the regulatory environment as well to make them competitive.

The food truck association sent a letter to Evans last week asking to be included in the discussion, according to D.C. Street Vendor, a blog following the District's street food scene.

Evans says there are a number of issues that need to be sorted out, including how food truck employees are licensed and where these trucks can park their vehicles.

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