#38 Oregon

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

From 2012

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) 6.9 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 1.36 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


Oregon has generally had higher freedom than its neighbors to the north and south—and reaped the benefits. However, since 2000, its economic growth rate has barely surpassed California’s and failed to match Washington’s, in part because of cost-of-living growth.

Oregon’s state taxes collapsed during the Great Recession but bounced back quickly. Taxes were raised in 2013–14 and are now a projected 5.6 percent of personal income. Local taxes have been more or less steady over that time and are now about 4.1 percent of income. Oregonians have little choice of local government, with just 0.45 effective competing jurisdictions per 100 square miles of private land. Government subsidies and debt are higher than average, but state and local employment is lower. From a better-than-average fiscal policy in FY 2000, Oregon now looks subpar in this dimension.

Land use has been a controversial issue in Oregon, and the Beaver State is indeed more regulated in this department than most other states, but we do not show any further tightening since the 1990s. However, the state ratcheted up its renewable portfolio standard in 2013–14. Oregon’s labor policy is generally anti-employment, with one of the highest minimum wages in the country relative to the median wage, no right-to-work law, and comprehensive workers’ compensation mandates. Several independent measures show that Oregon licenses far more occupations than most other states. However, health professions’ practice freedom is moderate. Insurance freedom has grown over the past four years with an end to rating classification prohibitions and the joining of the IIPRC. The civil liability system looks a bit better than the national average.

Oregon’s criminal justice policy does not quite match the state’s live-and-let-live reputation. Incarceration rates are a bit higher than average, but victimless crime arrest rates have come down substantially over the past several years to a roughly average level. Although recreational cannabis legalization passed in a November 2014 ballot initiative, it does not yet show up in our index. However, the state already had a fairly expansive medical cannabis law and decriminalization of small amounts. Civil asset forfeiture is fairly restricted, and law enforcement does not often circumvent state law through equitable sharing. Gun rights are better than one might expect from a left-of-center state, but during the late 2000s open- and concealed-carry rules were tightened. Illegal immigrants can now get driver’s licenses. Smoking bans are comprehensive and airtight. Oregon has little legal gambling other than social games and Indian casinos. Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2014.

Policy Recommendations

  • Fiscal: Cut employee retirement, health and hospitals, and public welfare down to levels consistent with national norms. Cut individual income and property taxes.
  • Regulatory: Eliminate occupational licensing for massage therapists, funeral attendants, pest control workers, agricultural graders and sorters, and other occupations.
  • Personal: Legalize commercial casinos, preferably through a competitive model.
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