Texas is one of the economically freest and personally least free states in the country. Its economic freedom is likely one reason it has been such a job-producing and population-attracting machine. However, its economic policies may get a bit more attention than deserved because of the state’s size. Yes, the Lone Star State draws a bunch of business from California and other highly regulated locales in an absolute sense and is a jobs juggernaut. But its economic growth rate over the past decade and a half still lags states like the Dakotas, Utah, and Wyoming that have also benefited from the energy revolution.
Texas’s fiscal policy is very good. It is a fiscally decentralized state, with local taxes at about 4.5 percent of personal income, above the national average, and state taxes at about 3.6 percent of income, well below the national average. However, Texans don’t have much choice of local government, with only 0.36 jurisdictions per 100 square miles. State and local debt is above average (with the biggest problem being local debt burdens), at 23.1 percent of income, but it has come down slightly since FY 2011. Government subsidies are below average. Public employment has fallen significantly below average, at 11.8 percent of private employment.
Texas’s land-use freedom keeps housing prices down. It also has a regulatory taking compensation law, but it only applies to state government. The renewable portfolio standard has not been raised in years. Texas is our top state for labor-market freedom. Workers’ compensation coverage is optional for employers; most employees are covered, but not all. The state has a right-to-work law, no minimum wage, and a federally consistent anti-discrimination law. Cable and telecommunications have been liberalized. However, health insurance mandates were quite high as of 2010, the last available date. The extent of occupational licensing is high, but the state recently enacted a sunrise review requirement for new licensure proposals. Time will tell whether it is at all effective. Nurse practitioners enjoy no freedom of independent practice at all. Texas has few cronyist entry and price regulations, but it does have a price-gouging law, and Tesla’s direct sales model is still illegal. The civil liability system used to be terrible, but now it is merely below average. The state abolished joint and several liability in 2003, but it could do more to cap punitive damages and end parties’ role in judicial elections.
Personal freedom is relatively low in Texas, but it should rise with the Obergefell decision, setting aside Texas’s super-DOMA (see Appendix Table B17). Criminal justice policies are generally aggressive—though Texas has emerged as a leading voice in the national reform movement. Even controlling for crime rates, the incarceration rate is far above the national average and has not improved since 2000. Drug arrest rates have fallen over time but are still above average for the user base. Nondrug victimless crime arrest rates have also fallen over time and are now below the national average. Asset forfeiture is mostly unreformed, and law enforcement frequently participates in equitable sharing. Cannabis laws are harsh. A single offense not involving minors can carry a life sentence. Even cultivating a tiny amount carries a mandatory minimum of six months. In 2013–14, the state banned the mostly harmless psychedelic Salvia divinorum. Travel freedom is low. The state takes a fingerprint for driver’s licenses and does not regulate automated license plate readers at all. It has little legal gambling. Private school choice programs are nonexistent, but at least private schools and homeschools are basically unregulated. Tobacco freedom is moderate, as smoking bans have not gone as far as in other states. Gun rights are moderately above average and should improve a bit in the next edition with the new open-carry law. Alcohol freedom is above average, with taxes low. Texas has virtually no campaign finance regulations.