Georgia - #1
Ranking: Tobacco Freedom
Georgia has been one of the fastest-growing southern states, likely because of its strong performance on economic freedom. Economic freedom also drove the state’s high overall freedom ranking. However, the state performs poorly on personal freedom despite some consistent absolute improvements since 2006 (even without considering the post-Obergefell bump because of the federalization of marriage policy).
State and local taxes were 8.9 percent of adjusted personal income, well below the national average. At 4.8 percent of personal income, state tax collections are significantly below the national average, while local taxes—4.1 percent of income—are above average. Like most southern states, Georgia has fewer than one effective competing local government per 100 square miles, which reduces the benefit from its fiscal decentralization. Government consumption and debt are substantially lower than average. Government employment used to be around the national average, but Georgia has brought it down from 13.2 percent of private employment in 2010 to 11.1 percent in 2016, a full standard deviation better than average.
Like other conservative southern states, Georgia does well on labor and land-use policy. It has a right-to-work law, no minimum wage, relaxed workers’ compensation regulations, and moderate zoning. It has partially deregulated telecommunications and enacted statewide video franchising. Unlike some other states in its neighborhood, however, Georgia also enjoys a relatively good civil liability system. In 2007–8 the state relaxed the approval process for automobile insurance rates, but it regressed in 2015. The one regulatory policy area where Georgia does poorly is occupational freedom. The extent of licensing is a bit less broad than the national average, and health care professions face generally tight scope-of-practice rules. The state also maintains certificate-of-need laws for hospitals and moving companies.
On personal freedom, Georgia is about what one would expect from a conservative southern state. Its incarceration rates are very high, even adjusted for crime rates, although victimless crime arrests have fallen and are better than average. Georgia reformed civil asset forfeiture modestly in 2015, but it still performs quite poorly in this category, participating much more than average in federal equitable sharing. The burden of proof remains on innocent owners, all proceeds go to law enforcement, and some actions require only probable cause to show that the property is subject to forfeiture. It is one of the worst states for cannabis and gambling. On the other hand, it is one of the best states for educational freedom, scores well on gun rights, and lightly regulates tobacco use compared with most other states. As of 2018, Georgia has the second lowest cigarette taxes in the country. It was one of the worst states for marriage freedom, but the state has benefited since the fourth edition from the Obergefell decision.