(The Center Square) – New Mexico is one of the less free states in the country, ranking 35th in the Cato Institute’s “Freedom in the 50 States 2023” report.
The libertarian think tank ranked all 50 states, assessing how their policies impact economic and social freedoms.
“The 2023 edition updates and expands on the six previous editions of Freedom in the 50 States,” the report’s introduction said. “It examines state and local government intervention across a wide range of policy categories – from taxation to debt, from eminent domain laws to occupational licensing, and from drug policy to educational choice.”
New Mexico had a 0.04 score in the rankings. Though it received favorable marks for personal freedom, it did poorly in economics.
“New Mexico has long had far more personal freedom than economic freedom, but it has never fully turned it around economically despite some movement in the right direction on fiscal policy—in absolute terms since 2000 and in relative terms since 2019,” the report said. “It is now 39th on fiscal policy after being stuck in 48th place for years, with a 36th-place ranking on regulatory policy. With a 41st-best score on economic freedom, as a whole, its 5th-best ranking on personal freedom can’t save it, though at least it is no longer in the bottom 10 states in overall freedom.”
New Mexico received poor marks for government consumption (48th), government employment (48th), and labor market freedom (44th), among other categories.
“New Mexico’s overall tax burden of 9.1 percent of adjusted personal income is below the national average of 10.1 percent,” the report said. “State taxes came in at 5.7 percent, which is below the national average and below a recent high of 6.3 percent in FY 2019. Local taxes have risen from 2.8 percent of income in FY 2001 to 3.4 percent in FY 2021. That growing fiscal decentralization does little for choice in government, however, as the state has fewer than one competing jurisdiction per 100 square miles. Government debt ballooned during the Great Recession but has come down all the way to 15.0 percent of income. Public employment is still abnormally high, as is government consumption. Cash and security assets are robust.”
Yet, the state got high marks for marriage freedom (No. 1), asset forfeiture (No. 1), and cannabis (No. 8), the report said.
Additionally, the state ranked above average regarding incarceration (13th).
“Victimless crime arrests, drug, and nondrug, are quite low, as are incarceration rates,” the report said. “The state’s asset forfeiture law is the best in the country, since putting limits on equitable sharing in 2015. Cannabis, alcohol and travel freedoms are all strong suits for New Mexico. Marijuana was legalized in 2021. Gambling freedom is limited, but sports betting is legal. From 2013 to 2017, physician-assisted suicide was legal, and then again since 2021, but that is a tiny part of our index.”
However, the report recommends the state expand school choice and liberalize smoking laws to improve its personal freedom score.
“The state is one of just two to have both a broad religious freedom restoration act and a broad equal rights amendment (Connecticut is the other),” the report said. “Tobacco and educational freedoms are weak spots in a top state. Students are required to go to school for 13 years, the most in the country, and the state has no choice programs apart from public school open enrollment. Cigarette taxes are high, and smoking bans are extensive.”
The report said that these were the five freest states:
1. New Hampshire
3. South Dakota
It also said that these are the five least free states:
50. New York
47. New Jersey