#32 Washington

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

From 2012

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) 5.5 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 1.78 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


Although Washington has had one of the more regulated economies in the United States for a long time, it has benefited from the fact that other West Coast states have had the same. Since 2006, we show decent gains in personal freedom and fiscal policy, along with some losses on regulatory policy.

Washington lacks an income tax; as a result, its fiscal policy is fairly good. Localities raise about the national average in taxes, 3.8 percent of personal income. State government, meanwhile, raises 5.1 percent of income, a little below the national average. Despite recent incorporations, Washingtonians have little choice in local government, just 0.51 per 100 square miles of private land. Government subsidies are, unfortunately, much higher than average, as is government debt. Public employment is also a bit higher than average, but it has fallen since 2010.

Washingtonians do not enjoy much freedom to use their own land. Local and regional zoning and planning rules have become quite strict. Eminent domain abuse is almost unchecked. The state has a modest renewable portfolio standard. Washington is one of the worst states on labor-market freedom. It lacks a right-to-work law, limits choices for workers’ comp programs, and has extremely high minimum wages relative to its wage base. Cable and telecommunications have not been liberalized. Occupational licensing has become much more extensive than the national average. Its sunrise commission law has proved useless. However, nurse practitioners and physician assistants enjoy broad scope of practice. Insurance freedom is quite poor. New rating classification prohibitions were passed in 2013–14. The civil liability system is mediocre but may have improved slightly since 2006.

Washington’s criminal justice policies are among the best in the nation. Incarceration and victimless crime arrest rates are far below national averages. The state recently legalized recreational cannabis. However, virtually nothing has been done about civil asset forfeiture abuse. Washingtonians have enjoyed same-sex marriage since 2012 and civil unions since 2008. Gun laws are quite good, especially for a left-leaning state, and some Class III weapons have been legalized in recent years. Washington increased its alcohol freedom to average from well below by privatizing state liquor stores and allowing spirits in grocery stores. However, taxes on distilled spirits are the highest in the country. Illegal immigrants have been able to get driver’s licenses for a long time. The state is fairly mediocre on gambling freedom and prohibits online gaming. Educational freedom is substandard, with very harsh private school and homeschool regulations. Smoking bans are comprehensive, and tobacco taxes are extremely high.

Policy Recommendations

  • Fiscal: Enact strict, ex post balanced budget requirements in order to bring state debt down over time.
  • Regulatory: Better protect property rights by enacting further-reaching eminent domain reform and reducing centralized land-use planning by repealing or amending the Growth Management Act and the Shoreline Management Act.
  • Personal: Repeal teacher licensing and mandatory state approval and registration for private schools, ease the annual testing requirement for home schoolers, and require home schooling parents to keep only a record of attendance, not teaching materials. As modest as these changes are, they would have been sufficient to raise Washington to first place on personal freedom in 2014.
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