After banging his head against the wall of the California Board of Equalization for 15 long years, Carpinteria’s gregarious, loquacious, and occasionally combustible “Hot Dog Man,” Bill Connell, is finally getting some legislative assistance.

Democratic Assembly member Julia Brownley, who represents Santa Monica and Malibu in the Sacramento statehouse, introduced a bill that would partially restore the tax break state lawmakers first gave itinerant vendors who served in the armed forces back in 1893. Connell contends that the State Board of Equalization has illegally interpreted changes subsequently made to that law to allow the state to charge sales taxes from veterans who make their living selling wares from push carts and roaming food stands. Personally, Connell claims this change has cost him $30,000 in taxes and another $30,000 in time spent fighting the state. “I spent 2,000 hours in a freaking law library,” Connell exclaimed. “Do you think I like to be in a freaking law library?”

For 15 years, Carpinteria's Bill Connell (shown here in 2007) has been fighting the state to restore a tax exemption for veterans. This year, he may be victorious.
Paul Wellman (file)

Brownley’s bill – AB 3009 – would “restore” the sales tax exemption for vendor-veterans, though in a strategically pared down fashion. Instead of exempting all vendor-veterans, the Brownley bill would exempt only those who sell foodstuffs. According to Brownley’s office, the number of vendors covered by this provision is less than 200, and possibly even fewer than 100. In addition, the bill does not cover past taxes that vendors have paid. Given the size of the budget deficit state lawmakers are confronting – $8 billion – Brownley took pains to keep the fiscal impact of the bill below $250,000.

Connell is even more ecstatic that the State Board of Equalization – with which he has long locked horns repeatedly – has opted not to fight this bill. In fact, the board voted 5-0 to endorse it. In the past, the state tax board has opposed Connell every step of the way. “They changed their position so fast that their asses got wet in the Pacific,” Connell stated with characteristic rhetorical flourish. “That means the tax lawyers were all wet to begin with.”

Connell credited help he got from Veterans United for Truth and other veterans organizations for getting AB 3009 introduced. “The Hot Dog Man” bill – as it is known in Sacramento – has yet to encounter its first committee hearing. That will take place in early May.

Connell, known for having a hot temper, has pledged to behave himself. “I don’t curse or yell, I show up five minutes early, and I don’t take up any more time than I say I will,” he promised. “I’m strictly jacket and tie, all the way.”

Connell served in the army during the Vietnam War – though he was assigned to Europe – and was discharged in 1976. He points out that the initial tax exemption was passed to recognize the service of veterans who may have difficulties making the transition back to civilian life. “Nationally, 19 percent of all vets are unemployed,” said Connell.

Connell credits the current presidential contest for some of the smoother sailing he’s encountered in recent months. Despite the state’s looming budget crisis, this is not a good time for politicians to be against helping the veterans, Connell noted, and said he’d been contacted by representatives of all three major Presidential aspirants: Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain. Connell has long enjoyed support from the likes of Santa Barbara Congress member Lois Capps, and First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal. And Connell said he fully expects Santa Barbara Assemblymember Pedro Nava to endorse the Brownlee bill.


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