#20 Utah

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

From 2012

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) 2.5 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 2.86 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


Utah’s economic policies are good and have generally improved over time, despite some backsliding in the 2009–12 years. Personal freedoms are a mixed bag, consistent with the state’s religious and ideological background. The Beehive State is growing rapidly.

Utah’s tax burden is a bit below average. We show a dramatic drop in state revenues with the onset of the Great Recession, which were never replaced. In fact, further tax cuts were made in FY 2014. Local taxes, meanwhile, have remained generally steady at right about the national average rate of 3.8 percent of personal income. Government subsidies, debt, and employment are all about average.

Utah does very well on regulatory policy overall. On land-use freedom, it is a little better than average, but it appears to be tightening zoning rules over time. Eminent domain reform was watered down in 2007–8. Labor law is solid. The state has a right-to-work law but no minimum wage. Health insurance mandates were well below the national average in the last available year of 2010. As everywhere, occupational licensing has increased over time, but sources differ on whether it is more or less extensive than elsewhere. Nursing freedom is generally good, but freedom for dental hygienists is not. Insurance freedom is among the best in the country, with “use and file” for most property and casualty lines, long-standing membership in the IIPRC, and “file and use” for new life insurance policies. The state has a price-gouging law and a sales-below-cost law for gasoline, but its general sales-below-cost law was repealed in 2007–8. Its civil liability system is better than average.

On personal freedom, Utah unsurprisingly does well on gun rights, travel freedom, and educational liberty, but quite poorly on alcohol, cannabis, gambling, and tobacco. It was also very bad on marriage, but it was forced to legalize same-sex marriage in 2014, a move that also overturned its super-DOMA prohibiting gay partnership contracts. Utah actually does generally well on criminal justice policy. Its crime-adjusted incarceration rate is below the national average, although it has crept up over time. Victimless crime arrest rates used to be way above average but have come down to national norms. The state had an excellent asset forfeiture law, but it has been successively weakened, most recently in 2013–14. Utah has recently moved to require fingerprints from drivers when they get their licenses.

Policy Recommendations

  • Fiscal: End business subsidies and apply the proceeds to reducing debt.
  • Regulatory: Eliminate occupational licensing for taxi drivers and chauffeurs, funeral attendants, occupational therapist assistants, recreational therapists, interpreters and translators, and other occupations. Enact mandatory sunrise review for new licensing proposals, involving an independent committee comprising consumers and professional economists.
  • Personal: Restore the civil asset forfeiture law that Utahans originally enacted in 2000.
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