March 9, 2012 | by Mark Lee
D.C. wedding blues, food truck rules

D.C. has the “wedding bell blues.”

While most D.C. residents are as delighted as the late singer-songwriter Laura Nyro must have been when the soul era pop music singing group 5th Dimension took her song with that title to the top of the charts in 1969 at the time of the Stonewall Rebellion, the potential initiation of same-sex marriage in neighboring Maryland next January has significant implications for the number of lesbian and gay weddings likely to be performed in the nation’s capital.

As reported in this column in December, the number of same-sex marriage licenses issued in the District has already proven to be far fewer than originally predicted. Projections by marriage equality advocates and city officials greatly overstated the total number of weddings and economic benefit that would result following legalization two years ago this month.

The number of same-sex weddings in D.C. involving couples from surrounding jurisdictions will almost certainly decline before the first handful of rice is thrown in the Free State.

If D.C. loses its distinction as the sole jurisdiction in the mid-Atlantic region and on the southern seaboard allowing same-sex couples to marry, the total number of gay and lesbian weddings and corresponding city fee collection, lower than anticipated tax revenue and business benefit, and nearly non-existent private sector job creation will be further reduced. The unexpectedly modest expenditures on wedding-related services and activities by same-sex couples has also contributed to this disparity and startled local businesses and wedding vendors.

When the Maryland legislature approved the Civil Marriage Protection Act and the governor signed the historic bill last week, the state set out on a path to join seven other states and the District of Columbia in embracing marriage equality. The Maryland law, however, is subject to an almost certain voter referendum in November, as opponents are expected to easily gather the required number of petition signatures to place the measure on the ballot.

An expensive and intensive campaign to preserve the Maryland law will be required, with polls indicating that the vote could be extremely close. Regardless of the financial impact for Washington, our neighbors should enjoy the financial support and active participation of District residents in supporting marriage equality.

Rules for D.C. food trucks

The D.C. Council Committee on Finance and Revenue last week unanimously approved a bill to require food trucks to collect and pay the 10 percent local sales tax imposed on restaurant sales and prepared food items. As reported here last week, food trucks are currently required to pay only a nominal flat fee of $1,500 per year in lieu of the standard tax rate — the equivalent of paying sales tax on a mere $15,000 in annual revenue.

D.C. Food Truck Association (DCFTA) Executive Director Che Ruddell-Tabisola issued a statement opposing the proposed sales tax measure, renewing the organization’s insistence that any decision to require compliance with local tax law be “contingent upon the implementation of … proposed new vending regulations” to which food truck operators seek revisions. The Council committee rejected this attempt to link the two unrelated city agency matters.

The tax legislation now moves to the full Council, with initial consideration likely in April followed by a final vote expected in May. If approved and signed by the mayor, as anticipated by most observers, the updated sales tax law would go into effect in October.

Meanwhile, the period for public comment on D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) proposed regulations governing food truck operation, recently detailed in this column, came to a close last week. City officials have indicated that they will now review the submissions that include substantive comments in order to evaluate whether the proposed rules should be revised prior to submitting them to the D.C. Council for an up-or-down vote.

If DCRA decides to significantly change the current draft of the regulations, the agency could again issue them for an additional round of public comment before finalizing a recommendation to Council. Although a timeline for agency review and action is unknown, it may take several weeks to complete. Once the proposed rules are finalized, DCRA will provide its suggested rulemaking to Council for addition to the legislative calendar.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

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