#7 Idaho

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

From 2012

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) 9.4 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 2.38 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


Idaho is one of the most economically and socially conservative states in the country. As a result, it is perhaps unsurprising that it enjoys one of the very highest levels of economic freedom and one of the very lowest levels of personal freedom. Nevertheless, the state continues to enjoy substantial inmigration, primarily from the less-free West Coast.

Idaho’s fiscal policy has been improving over time, but it remains a weak spot in certain respects. State-level tax collections as a share of income have fallen from 6.8 percent in FY 2000 to 5.7 percent in FY 2013 and are a projected 5.6 percent for FY 2015. That is now about the national average. Local taxes are below the national average, at 2.7 percent of income. Local governments are territorially large: there is only about one effective competing jurisdiction per 200 square miles of private land. Government debt and subsidies are well below the national average, but government employment is only about average.

Idaho does well across the board on regulatory policy. It is one of the best states for occupational freedom, but in 2011, the state began to license more occupations. It is one of the very best states for insurance freedom. There is no hospital certificate-of-need requirement, and direct auto sales were legalized in 2013–14. However, the state does have a general sales-below-cost law. The state’s civil liability system is one of the best, and it also scores well above average on labor law, although workers’ compensation mandates are strict. Despite its huge influx of new residents over the past two decades, Idaho held the line on land-use controls for a long time. We do see evidence that new building restrictions have started to come into force since 2006, however. Idaho has done little to curb eminent domain abuse. Since 2012, the state also forbids employers from prohibiting weapons on their property (parking lots)—a trivial part of the index but a symbolically significant restriction on property rights. Statewide video franchising was enacted in 2012.

Idaho is the worst state outside the Deep South on criminal justice policy. Crime-adjusted incarceration rates are nearly two standard deviations above the national average and have been increasing over time. Victimless crime arrests are about average, showing that the state’s real problem is sentencing. 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. Homeschooling and private schooling are almost unregulated, but the state has no private school choice programs. Gun rights are better than average, but the state does have a weak law on self-defense in public and a stricter-than-federal minimum age to possess firearms. The expense of a concealed-carry license, including training, is about the national average.

Policy Recommendations

  • Fiscal: Comprehensively decentralize power by making it easy for new municipalities to incorporate and secede from existing ones, shifting responsibilities from counties to municipalities, freeing up local property tax–varying power, and reducing state aid to schools so that localities rely on their own tax base. The last move will also allow the state to cut taxes, particularly the general sales tax, which will give localities more tax room.
  • Regulatory:Make workers’ compensation participation voluntary for employers, as in Texas.
  • Personal: Eliminate or reduce mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses to reduce the incarceration rate. Allow currently imprisoned offenders to petition for release under the new guidelines.
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