#21 Virginia

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

From 2012

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) 2.4 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 1.53 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


As a historically conservative southern state, Virginia has usually done much better on economic than personal freedom. However, we record some significant improvements in personal freedom in recent years. Due in part to rising cost of living, the Old Dominion has had one of the worst growth records in the country since 2006, though still better than neighbor Maryland.

Virginia is a somewhat fiscally decentralized state with an average local tax burden (about 3.8 percent of income) and a below-average state tax burden (about 4.4 percent of income, a significant decline from FY 2007). Virginians’ choice in local government is subpar, with just half a competing jurisdiction per 100 square miles. Government subsidies and debt are low, and employment is average. These policies show little change over time.

Virginia’s land-use freedom is generally good, although local zoning rules have tightened in recent years, especially in the northern part of the state. Eminent domain reform has been effective. Labor law is well above average, with a right-to-work law, no minimum wage, fairly relaxed workers’ comp rules, and a federally consistent anti-discrimination law. Health insurance mandates have long been much higher than the national average and amount to more than 50 percent of the cost of an average premium. Cable and telecommunications have been liberalized. Occupational licensing is more extensive than in the average state. Nurses and dental hygienists enjoy little practice freedom. Insurance freedom is a bit above average, but Virginia has a CON law, price-gouging law, and mover licensing. The civil liability system is about average.

Virginia’s criminal justice policies are worsening. It now has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, even controlling for crime rates. Victimless crime arrest rates are about average. Asset forfeiture is virtually unreformed, and local police frequently circumvent it anyway with equitable sharing. The state’s approach to cannabis producers and consumers is draconian. Even low-level cultivation carries a yearlong mandatory minimum sentence, and life imprisonment is possible for a single marijuana offense not involving minors. Virginia is one of the best states for gun rights and has improved over time. Alcohol freedom is subpar but improved in the early 2000s as some regulations were withdrawn. State liquor store markups are still huge. Virginia has little legal gambling. Educational freedom grew substantially in 2011–12 with a new tax credit scholarship law. Tobacco freedom is better than average, with comparatively low cigarette taxes and respect for the property rights of private workplaces. The state was forced to legalize same-sex marriage in 2014, which also overturned the state’s oppressive super-DOMA banning all relationship-style contracts between two gay people.

Policy Recommendations

  • Fiscal: Trim government employment across the board.
  • Regulatory: Legalize independent practice with full prescriptive authority for nurse practitioners, adopt a nursing consultation exception for interstate practice, and allow dental hygienists to clean teeth without dentist supervision.
  • Personal: Reform sentencing for nonviolent offenses with an eye to reducing the incarceration rate to the national average in the long term.
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