Billy Connell
Paul Wellman

Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill allowing Carpinteria’s famed Hot Dog Man, Bill Connell, to be compensated for sales taxes levied that by law he should not have had to pay. Connell, a Vietnam-era veteran, has been waging a one-man war with the state comptroller’s office on behalf of veteran street vendors for 21 years, insisting they were legally exempt from such taxes.

In 2009, the legislature concluded Connell’s interpretation of the law was correct. This year — thanks to a bill authored by Assemblymember Das Williams — the legislature voted 175-to-1 to set aside $50,000 to compensate Connell and any other veterans who may have been taxed on sales proceeds from vending cart operations. Connell estimates he has up to $30,000 coming.

If there are more claims than the funding can accommodate, Connell said the proceeds are to be distributed in a pro-rata fashion. “This is the camel’s nose under the tent,” he proclaimed. Given that the comptroller estimated there are 5,600 potential beneficiaries, Connell said the total amount under contention could easily “wind up in the millions.”

Connell has become a fixture around Carpinteria, selling hot dogs out of his “Surf Dog” cart and dispensing a steady stream of jokes and barbed commentary for the past 22 years. His battle with the state began one year later and has become the stuff of David-versus-Goliath lore in the halls of Sacramento. “I’ve been on defense for 21 years now,” Connell exalted. “Now I get to go on the offense.”

Connell had warm praise for Williams, who, he noted, was fond of his monster chili dogs after an afternoon of chasing waves. Despite his help, Connell said Williams will have to pay for such monster dogs in the future. “He gets nothing free,” Connell stated. “Otherwise it could be viewed as a bribe.”


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