A new report from the libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University ranks North Carolina 23rd in the nation on public policies that increase or ensure economic and personal freedom.
The study, titled “Freedom in the 50 States,” tracked policies in areas such as gun control, homeschool regulation, income taxation, and government spending. The Tar Heel State ranked 26th in economic freedom and 30th in personal freedom.
“On fiscal policy, the state could most readily improve by cutting social services spending and individual income taxes,” wrote authors William Ruger and Jason Sorens, political science professors at Texas State University and State University of New York, respectively.
“On personal freedom, the state could improve by reducing gun control (particularly ending handgun licensing), lowering punitive taxes on beer and spirits, reforming marijuana sentencing … repealing home school teacher qualifications and reducing the standardized testing requirement, and reforming asset forfeiture further,” the authors wrote.
The report praised North Carolina’s record on labor laws and tobacco regulation, but suggested rolling back occupational licensing fees and furthering eminent domain reform.
Similar to its national ranking, North Carolina came in near the middle of the pack among states in the Southeast. Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida scored higher; Mississippi, Arkansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Louisiana scored lower.
Nationwide, the report ranked New Hampshire, Colorado, and South Dakota as the freest states. “All three states feature low taxes and government spending and middling levels of regulation and paternalism,” the authors say. New York, by far, was the least free state, followed by New Jersey and Rhode Island in a distant second and third place.
The personal freedom index touched on divisive issues such as drug legalization and marriage redefinition but avoided taking a stand on abortion and the death penalty.
The report scored education policy as the most important category under personal freedom. “The reason we consider education regulations so critically important is that they affect the future course of liberty by affecting how and what the next generation is taught,” Ruger and Sorens wrote.
On fiscal policy, the report divides emphasis evenly between government spending and taxation. On regulatory policy, the authors give the most weight to labor regulation, health insurance, and occupational licensing.
The report comes while lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly are weighing a bill that would ban smoking in public buildings and in private businesses, bars, and restaurants. A House health committee passed the measure by a voice vote March 3, sending the legislation to a judiciary committee.
Faced with a massive budget shortfall, legislators also have proposed tax hikes on tobacco and alcohol purchases. An Elon University poll released in late February found that around three-fourths of North Carolinians support raising so-called “sin taxes” to help reduce fiscal woes. Revenue from such tax hikes would plug only a fraction of the state’s budgets shortfall, however.
David Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.