Cato Institute: Idaho 7th freest state

Via Magic Valley:

Idaho is the seventh-freest state in America, according to a ranking released todayby the libertarian Cato Institute.

The Charles Koch-founded think tank, which supports less government intervention both in the economy and in personal matters like abortion and drug use, ranks Idaho as the freest state in the country in terms of regulations and the eighth-freest on state fiscal policy, but puts it at 45th on personal freedom for being what it calls “the worst state outside the Deep South on criminal justice policy.”

Under Cato’s ranking, New Hampshire is the freest state in the country (their state motto is “Live Free or Die”), New York the least free. Idaho ranks better in Cato’s eyes than its neighbors; it considers Nevada the next-freest, at 12th out of the 50 states.

Cato’s report says Idaho has been improving on fiscal policy — state tax collections as a share of income have fallen from 6.8 percent in 2000 to 5.7 percent in 2013 and were projected at 5.6 percent for 2015. Cato generally praises the state’s regulatory policies on land use and labor laws, but it is highly critical of Idaho’s incarceration rates, which it says are “nearly two standard deviations above the national average” even when crime rates are taken into account.

“Victimless crime arrests are about average, showing that the state’s real problem is sentencing,” the report says. “It is also much less freer than average for alcohol, cannabis, and gambling. The only personal freedom on which it is much freer than average is tobacco: cigarette taxes are not high, and there is not a smoking ban for bars. “


Cato recommends Idaho make several policy changes, with one big one being “reducing state aid to schools so that localities rely on their own tax base.” The authors of the report argue this “will also allow the state to cut taxes, particularly the general sales tax, which will give localities more tax room.” This recommendation seems unlikely to happen — Idaho has been increasing education spending for the past couple of years after cutting it deeply during the recession, and while Democrats have called for bigger increases to account for inflation and the higher number of students, the general goal of increasing the state’s spending on education crosses party lines.

Cato also recommends that Idaho eliminate or reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses, and allow currently imprisoned offenders to petition for release under the new guideline.