D.C. Council committee applies food tax to trucks

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Local,Courtney Zott

Your lunchtime street food likely will start costing you a little more this fall.

The D.C. Council's Committee on Finance and Revenue unanimously passed a bill Thursday that will force food trucks to charge the same 10 percent sales taxes paid by brick-and-mortar restaurants. The measure is expected to pass the full council and will take effect Oct. 1.

"We've always said we'll collect sales tax on behalf of the city," said Che Ruddell-Tabisola, head of the Food Truck Association. "It just needs to be done in a fair way.

Food truck vendors currently pay a flat $1,500 annual fee ($375 per quarter) -- the same fee that street vendors near tourist spots have been paying for more than a decade. But many restaurants owners argue this is no longer a fair deal, due to the surge in street food popularity. Why wait for a table when similar food can be purchased right on the sidewalk for a lower price?

Basil Thyme, a self-described "from scratch, fresh herb Italian eatery" offers chicken saut?ed in shallots and wine with spinach, a side salad, dessert (your choice of cannoli) and a drink for $10.

"Regardless if they do or not [raise prices], people are still going to come," said D.C. paralegal Tina Bradley.

Mayor Vince Gray in January proposed an overhaul of the food truck industry in the District. His reforms haven't been taken up by the council yet, and Councilwoman Muriel Bowser expressed concern Thursday over hitting food trucks with the tax even as other changes lie ahead.

As the bill stands, each licensed food truck operator who collects more than $375 in sales taxes on a quarterly basis will continue paying that sales tax to the city. Operators that collect less than that will instead pay the vending fees they pay now. How the taxes will be collected has food truck vendors concerned.

"I think again this is just another case that points to why we need better food vendor regulations," Ruddell-Tabisola said. "The two proposals have to move forward together."

Examiner staff writer Liz Farmer contributed to this report.

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