#11 Nevada

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

From 2012

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) 19.9 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 2.16 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


Unsurprisingly, Nevada is consistently one of the top states for personal freedom. However, Nevada’s economic freedom has suffered as the state’s ideological orientation has shifted from center-right to center-left. From 2006 to 2013, the state posted one of the lowest rates of personal income growth in the country, just 0.8 percent annually. Only Florida, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia were worse.

Nevada’s fiscal policy has worsened over time, a fact that might have something to do with a 2003 Nevada Supreme Court decision setting aside part of the state constitution, which required a supermajority for tax increases.127 State-level taxes have risen from a low of 4.9 percent of personal income in FY 2009 (and 5.5 percent in FY 2000) to about 5.9 percent today, while local taxes rose from 3.4 percent in FY 2000 to 3.6 percent in FY 2012. Nevadans have virtually no choice of local governments, given the importance of territorially vast counties. Subsidies are a little below average, government employment is well below average, and government debt is well above average and rising. From 22.0 percent of income in FY 2000, state and local debt now stands at over 26 percent of income.

As one of the “sand states” attracting huge net inmigration in the 1990s and early 2000s, Nevada has retained an admirable degree of land-use freedom. However, renewable portfolio standards are quite high and rising, affecting the cost of electricity. Nevada does have a right-to-work law but also a modest minimum wage. Cable and telecommunications have been liberalized. Occupational freedom declined dramatically between 2000 and 2006 because of the expansion of licensing, but in 2013–14, nurse practitioners gained the right of independent practice with full prescription authority. Insurance freedom is low because of prior approval of rates and forms, but Nevada joined the IIPRC in 2011–12. The state has a hospital certificate-of-need requirement. The court system is a little better than average but has not improved over time, unlike many other states.

Nevada is number one for gambling freedom (no surprise), and it is the only state with legal prostitution (local option). In 2014, it moved from civil unions to same-sex marriage. However, on criminal justice policy, Nevada is more of a mixed bag. Nondrug victimless crime arrest rates are quite high but have fallen over time, and it is possible that they are overstated because of Nevada’s high tourist population. The incarceration rate is about average for its crime prevalence. The civil asset forfeiture regime is mediocre. Gun rights are extensive and have generally gained over time. The state also has a long-standing medical cannabis law that was expanded slightly in 2013–14. However, it is also possible to get life imprisonment for a single marijuana offense not involving minors, and even low-level cultivation has a one-year mandatory minimum. Nevada is one of the top states for alcohol freedom, with fully private wholesaling and retailing, low taxes, no blue laws, legal direct wine shipping, and wine and spirits in grocery stores. In 2013–14, the state enacted a law giving illegal immigrants access to driver’s licenses, which outweighs its 2011–12 move to ban handheld cell phone use in increasing overall travel freedom. As of our data cutoff, Nevada was one of the worst states for educational freedom. Private schools are tightly regulated, facing mandatory state approval, mandatory teacher licensing, and detailed private school curriculum control. However, our index does not take account of the educational savings account plan passed in 2015, which in 2014 would have raised its educational freedom score to average. Even tobacco is not as tightly controlled as one would expect from a state with the ballot initiative. Nevadans may still light up in bars with permission of the owner.

Policy Recommendations

  • Fiscal: Cut air transportation, employment security administration, public buildings, and parks and recreation. Use the proceeds to trim sales and “other” taxes. Nevada spends far more than the national average on police, but that may be warranted given the nature of its social and economic model.
  • Regulatory: Deregulate occupations such as epidemiologists, environmental health specialists, title plant personnel, interior designers, sign language interpreters, clinical laboratory technologists, pharmacy technicians, veterinary technologists, opticians, athletic trainers, massage therapists, security guards, landscaping contractors, child-care workers, bill and account collectors, well drillers, alarm installers, taxi drivers, and crane operators.
  • Personal: Abolish private school teacher licensing, state approval of private schools, and detailed curriculum requirements.
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