Are Local Governments Trendsetters?

Plastic bag bans, fast-food menu labeling requirements, and taxing of bottled water are all issues being considered in some state legislatures, and even in Congress. But what do these issues have in common? They all originated at the local government level.

  • San Francisco was the first local government to pass the plastic bag ban in March 2007. Many iterations of the ban have been considered by other local governments and by some states. A bill has even been introduced in Congress by Virginia Congressman James Moran (D), imposing a tax on single-use carry-out bags.
  • In July 2008, New York City became the first U.S. city to require fast food restaurants to post calorie counts in large type on menu boards. Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle, Westchester County (New York) and the state of California soon followed. And menu labeling was also included in the federal healthcare reform bill enacted this spring, calling upon the FDA to develop new regulations that will set forth national standards for restaurants to post the calories of the various food items offered on the menu.
  • Chicago began collecting a tax on bottled water purchases in January 2008. While the tax was proposed by the City for “environmental purposes”, many cash-strapped local and state governments have viewed the tax as a way to help fill empty coffers, and included it in budget proposals around the country.

Every day over 3,000 counties and more than 19,000 cities, villages, and towns in the United States are enacting ordinances. Many local governments are proud to be trend setters, and are actively looking for new ideas. If you want to forecast what the next “trends” will be in the state and federal governments, start paying close attention to what local governments are doing. The next ordinance passed by Chicago, New York City, Denver, San Francisco, or even your own local government may be the next big “trend.”

  • In May, the Santa Clara, California County Board of Supervisors voted to forbid the inclusion of a toy in any restaurant meal that has more than 485 calories, more than 600 mg of salt or high amounts of sugar or fat. This effectively eliminates “kids meals” at many restaurants.
  • Also in May, the Montgomery County, Maryland Council voted to enact a carbon tax of $5 per ton of carbon dioxide on power stations that produce more than 1 million tons in a given year. While the tax only applies to one utility company in that county, the county is the first to enact such a tax in the nation.

Could these be next new “trends” across local, state and federal government? It’s possible.

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