#35 Ohio

Read More

The overall freedom ranking is a combination of personal and economic freedoms.

From 2012

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) -4.3 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 1.60 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


Relative to other states, Ohio has improved just slightly on economic freedom since 2008, but its policy regime is worse than other Great Lakes states that have been reforming, such as Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Ohio is a little more fiscally decentralized than the average state. Local taxes add up to about 4.6 percent of personal income, while state taxes sit at a projected 5.0 percent of income in FY 2015. The discovery of shale gas has allowed Ohio to raise severance taxes and essentially shift some of its tax burden to consumers of natural gas throughout North America. Government subsidies are a bit higher than average in Ohio, while state and local debt and employment are lower than average.

On the most important regulatory policy category, land-use and environmental freedom, Ohio does well. Zoning has a light touch, and renewable portfolio standards exist but are very low. Labor-market freedom is a problem area for Ohio. The state has a minimum wage, no right-to-work law, and strict workers’ compensation coverage and funding rules. Cable and telecommunications have been liberalized. The average of different measures suggests that in Ohio, the extent of occupational licensing is greater than average. Nursing scope of practice is the most restricted in the country. The state has a hospital CON law, but price regulation in most markets is limited. The civil liability system is worse than average, but a punitive damages cap enacted in 2005 has changed perceptions somewhat.

Ohio has a higher-than-average, crime-adjusted incarceration rate, and it has risen over time. Meanwhile, victimless crime arrest rates are lower than average and have fallen over time. The state’s asset forfeiture law and practice are both subpar. Apart from decriminalization of small-scale possession, cannabis remains highly restricted. Gun rights are a bit better than average. The state is about average on gambling. Educational freedom is above average, due mostly to a statewide voucher program, but private schools and homeschools are sharply regulated. Draconian smoking bans have been in place for a decade. The state had a super-DOMA banning contracted gay relationships at the end of 2014, and so the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision should result in an increase in the state’s personal freedom (see Appendix Table B17).

Policy Recommendations

  • Fiscal: Trim spending on employment security administration, public welfare, and employee retirement, areas where Ohio spends more than the average state. Cut state taxes, particularly on individual income.
  • Regulatory: Look at Indiana as a model “Rust Belt” state with regard to regulatory policy, and reform Ohio’s regulatory system according to that model. For instance, consider liberalizing the workers’ comp system and rolling back occupational licensing. Adopt a right-to-work law in line with Indiana and Michigan.
  • Personal: Abolish mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses with an eye toward reducing the incarceration rate to a level more consistent with its crime rate.
  • Map button

    Pick a New State

    Ohio Print Version