June 8, 2011

Study says Maryland one of “least free” states, but ranks well on taxes and spending

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Flag in State House rotunda

Flag in State House rotunda.

The Free State really isn’t very free, according to a new report from the Mercatus Center in Northern Virginia, a libertarian research group.

According to a study from Mercatus Center scholars who looks at how truly free each state is, Maryland ranked 43rd, seventh from the bottom. Done by two scholars with the George Mason University-based group, the study ranks Maryland dead last in personal freedom, 44th in regulatory freedom and 28th in economic freedom.

But one surprise in the study was how well Maryland ranks on fiscal issues, coming in 11th among the states on its freedom rankings.  The Tax Foundation, business groups and Republicans typically beat up Maryland for high taxes.

Surprise on taxes, spending

Jason Sorens, a political science professor at SUNY Buffalo who co-authored the study, was “a little surprised ” too, given Maryland’s poor rankings in other categories.

The main reason for the good ranking on government taxes and spending is the way the Mercatus study calculated the fiscal burden. Maryland’s state “debt ratio to personal income is very low” compared to other states, Sorens said. “Its ratio of government spending to personal income is also low.”

“On tax collection, Maryland is about average,” he said.

Sorens noted that the Tax Foundation, which ranks Maryland as the 12th highest taxed state, counts taxes paid to other states. The Mercatus study puts Maryland “right there in the middle.”

Maryland’s tax burden looks higher because personal incomes are higher, Sorens said.

Study aims for policy debate

“We hope that this will spark a broader discussion of what freedom looks like, and more of a debate in public policy,” said Daniel Rothschild, managing director of state and local policy for the Mercatus Center.

The study, done every other year since 2007, looks at how government-created rules, regulations and obligations impact residents. The states with fewer obligations on residents are deemed in the study as “more free,” while states with more regulation and deeper debt are “less free.” The data in the study released this week are current as of Jan. 1, 2009.

Regulatory restrictions

Regulatory freedoms deal with labor regulations, health insurance policy, licensing requirements for occupations, and tort laws. Personal freedoms look at how “paternalistic” state laws are, as well as how many people the laws impact.  This category looks at gun control, driving laws, marijuana possession penalties, same-sex marriage, and campaign finance laws.

The study goes through a litany of regulations Maryland has in place for its residents – which are responsible for its rock-bottom personal freedom rating.

“Maryland’s impositions on personal freedoms” include many things, the report states. Gun control is tight, marijuana laws are strict, there are many restrictions on motorists, and the state keeps a tight rein on gambling. When making arrests, police can often collect DNA from suspects. Additionally, the study decries that the state must even approve curriculum used by parents homeschooling their children.

There are also policies in place that burden the business world, the study says. These include many occupations that are licensed, “severe” labor regulations, health insurance coverage mandates – which the study says adds more than 50% to the total cost – and “almost totally unchecked” use of eminent domain.

The study authors recommend that Maryland legalize same-sex marriage, allow more exceptions for medical marijuana, and license fewer occupations.

Red states freer

William Ruger, one of the study’s authors, said that many conservative “red” states tended to be freer across the board. On the other end of the spectrum, liberal “blue” states tend to bring up the rear. Joining Maryland, with its strong Democratic majority, as some of the “least free” states are Democratic powerhouses like California, New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

“While bright blue states tend to be more liberal on some things, the majority of them are more paternalistic,” he said.

The “freest” states, according to the study, are New Hampshire, South Dakota, Indiana and Idaho.

Study authors also looked at population trends and saw that people have been moving away from the “less free” states. Meanwhile, “more free” states have seen population growth. The more free states, they predicted, are on track to become the cultural centers where people want to live.

Progressives take exception

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, says the Mercatus Center’s study is looking at personal freedoms in the wrong way. Maryland has instituted many policies that enhance public health and safety – like taxing tobacco so that fewer people smoke, or making it more difficult for criminals to buy guns. The Mercatus Center mischaracterizes “personal freedom,” he said, and Maryland should really be ranked as the nation’s “most free” state.

“There’s nothing better for freedom than being alive,” DeMarco said.

Rion Dennis, executive director of Progressive Maryland, said that the things the study says Maryland is doing wrong have actually done very well for the people of the state.

“You can put together a compendium of any number of things and say what freedom is,” he said. “Here in Maryland, we enjoy a prosperity from all of those rules and regulations that were put in place.”

  • marge

    We have good reason to be one of the worst taxed state in the country. O’MALLEY’S NEW AMERICANS NEED THE MONEY.  But they vote..  Many times over!!  The corruption continues..

  • marge

    We have good reason to be one of the worst taxed state in the country. O’MALLEY’S NEW AMERICANS NEED THE MONEY.  But they vote..  Many times over!!  The corruption continues..

  • Getalong

    Scares me will retire in Delaware

  • Getalong

    Scares me will retire in Delaware

  • PeacefulRevolutionatBallotBox

    Ooops Forgot to point out Progressive is code for Socialists – other failed States – when will people ever review their history ? Progressive reminds me of what Jim Jones was setting up – hence the term “Kool Aid Drinkers.”   My vision of America has nothing to do with Kool Aid Drinkers but everything to do with individual effort to achieve the best each one of us can and to defend our country so that liberty and freedom can reign.  Every law passed brings us to Socialism/Marxism. If we don’t return to the Constitution soon we will have abdicated our rights and freedoms to the government which was originally established to defend individual rights. Wake up America! Our country was established on those rights given to us by God through the good will of our Founding Fathers.  Patriots of Constitutional Enforcement – please rise!

  • PeacefulRevolutionatBallotBox

    Ooops Forgot to point out Progressive is code for Socialists – other failed States – when will people ever review their history ? Progressive reminds me of what Jim Jones was setting up – hence the term “Kool Aid Drinkers.”   My vision of America has nothing to do with Kool Aid Drinkers but everything to do with individual effort to achieve the best each one of us can and to defend our country so that liberty and freedom can reign.  Every law passed brings us to Socialism/Marxism. If we don’t return to the Constitution soon we will have abdicated our rights and freedoms to the government which was originally established to defend individual rights. Wake up America! Our country was established on those rights given to us by God through the good will of our Founding Fathers.  Patriots of Constitutional Enforcement – please rise!

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  • Anonymous

    Maybe the authors should have added the numerous “fees” into the mix?  As for Vinny DeMarco, we should be ecstatic to just “be alive” in this wonderful free loving state of Maryland? What’s he smoking? Criminals have no problem getting guns, people still smoke, and idiots still keep opening their mouths.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe the authors should have added the numerous “fees” into the mix?  As for Vinny DeMarco, we should be ecstatic to just “be alive” in this wonderful free loving state of Maryland? What’s he smoking? Criminals have no problem getting guns, people still smoke, and idiots still keep opening their mouths.

  • Godon Shumway

    This annual ersatz ranking is one of my personal favorites. The Mercatus Center for Misleading Information (another right wing “Research for Higher” think tank, with ties to the secretive Koch Brothers) does indeed rank Maryland last among the 50 states in “personal freedom”.  BUT …

    How on earth DOES one objectively quantify and rank order personal freedom?  Is there a Freedom Meter?  In what unit(s) of measure is Personal Freedom quantified?  Perhaps a Personal Freedom Unit (a PFU)?  Is there a “Le Grand Kilo of Personal Freedom” somewhere in France?   The Mercatus Report is, of necessity, totally subjective in both the metrics it chooses and the weighting of those metrics.  The excerpt below, from their Marland Summary provides some insight into their “methodology”, such as it is.

    “Maryland’s impositions on personal freedom include the second-strictest gun laws in the country, and marijuana laws are fairly harsh (except that the first offense of high-level pos- session is a misdemeanor, and there is a weak medical marijuana law), motorists’ freedoms are highly restricted, gambling laws are tight, home schooling laws are burdensome (curricula must be approved by the government), centralized land-use planning is very advanced, eminent domain abuse is totally unreformed, victimless crimes arrest rates are high, and civil unions are not recognized.

    On the plus side, taxes on beer, wine, and spirits are fairly low, and overall Maryland has one of the least restrictive alcohol control systems in the country. Surprisingly, the state has not enacted complete smoking bans yet.”

    Digging through their spreadsheets you find that Maryland is heavily penalized for making it so difficult to get a concealed weapons permit or to buy an assault weapon.  Surprisingly, MD was scored down for strict marijuana laws and scored up for lax liquor control and alcohol taxes. 

    It is also instructive to note that MD is marked down for having too many restrictions on Home Schooling; while a woman’s right to choose is given no weight whatsoever.  So, in a way, it all comes down what freedoms these champions of freedom believe we should have.

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