America’s Least Free States

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5. Rhode Island
> Overall freedom score: –40.4
> Gun freedom rank: 8th worst
> Tax burden: 10th highest
> Victimless crimes enforcement: 2nd best

Rhode Island is one of the worst rated states in the nation for fiscal policy, which accounts for just over 35% of a state’s overall freedom score. The state was especially criticized for its taxes and debt. The state also ranked near the bottom in regulatory freedom. It is one of just a few states that requires employers to provide short-term disability insurance. Also, health insurers are required to cover many different illnesses and injuries. Although the state performs better in terms of personal freedoms, it still ranks in the bottom half in that particular category. Mercatus points out that gun control is strict and the state has the second-highest cigarette taxes in the U.S.

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4. Hawaii
> Overall freedom score: -67.3
> Gun freedom rank: 4th worst
> Tax burden: 2nd highest
> Victimless crimes enforcement: 8th best

Hawaii scored low in all three categories. Hawaii’s state and local tax burden is 11.3%, among the highest in the country. According to Guns & Ammo Magazine, just 6.7% of all residents own a gun, a lower percentage than any other state. The magazine points out that there are major restrictions on what kind of handguns residents are allowed to purchase, and all purchases require a permit. In addition, the state’s smoking ban that applies to all “restaurants, bars and workplaces without any exceptions.”

3. New Jersey
> Overall freedom score: -78.8
> Gun freedom rank: 5th worst
> Tax burden: 3rd highest
> Victimless crimes enforcement: 15th best

New Jersey’s average state and local tax burden of 11.2% is higher than all but two states, significantly dragging down the state in the freedom rankings. Also bringing down New Jersey are the state’s property rights laws, which Mercatus believes are the worst in the country. The group points out that zoning laws are incredibly strict. Also, private malls and homeowners’ associations must allow political speech on their property, among other problematic property rights regulations. New Jersey is also the worst in terms of travel freedom. The state has primary seat belt enforcement, a ban on driving with cell phones, and helmet laws for both motorcycles and bicycles.

2. California
> Overall freedom score: -85.8
> Gun freedom rank: the worst
> Tax burden: 6th highest
> Victimless crimes enforcement: 25th best

California’s state and local tax burdens of 10.8% of total income is one of the highest in the country. Since this study, taxes have been raised, disproportionately hitting high-income earners. Voters approved Proposition 30 last November, which raised income taxes for single filers earning at least $250,000 and married filers earning at least $500,000 annually. The measure also increased the state sales tax to 7.5% from 7.25%. California scored worse than any other state in terms of regulatory freedom. Concerns noted by the Mercatus Center include the state’s very strict zoning laws as well as labor laws such as the high minimum wage and universal worker’s compensation that place a significant burden on employers.

1. New York
> Overall freedom score: -150.2
> Gun freedom rank: 3rd worst
> Tax burden: the highest
> Victimless crimes enforcement: 10th best

New York scored the lowest of any states measured, ranking in the bottom four states in all three freedom categories. The state’s fiscal freedom was the worst in the country. Much of that is due to the state’s very high taxation burden of 14% of income, more than any other state by a sizeable margin. In terms of personal freedoms, the group noted that gun control laws in the state are very strict and have just gotten stricter. In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law that limited the number of bullets allowed in magazines and created a statewide gun registry, among other new regulations.

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