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March 28. 2013 10:06PM

NH, the freest state?

A conservative think tank has downgraded New Hampshire on its freedom index.

Once the freest state in the nation, based on criteria developed by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, two years of Democratic rule from 2009 to 2010 brought the ranking from first to fourth overall, according to Jason Sorens, one of the study's authors.

"The 2009-10 legislature, under unified Democratic control, went on a spending and tax-hiking binge," according to Sorens. "They did this even as states like North and South Dakota were already strengthening market-friendly policies in many areas. As a result, New Hampshire is no longer the freest state in the country - not by a long shot."

The New Hampshire ranking was built from data through 2010, in a Mercatus report issued on Thursday, titled "Freedom in the 50 states," which ranks each state on 24 criteria covering fiscal and regulatory policies as well as personal freedoms.

The categories range from tax burden and government spending, to regulatory freedom, gambling freedom and marriage freedom.

The Mercatus rankings favor conservative spending and taxing policies, combined with libertarian attitudes on social issues and personal freedoms.

New Hampshire gets good marks for its lack of a helmet law for motorcyclists, for instance, but low grades for its failure to approve medical marijuana, at least as of late 2010.

New Hampshire ranked number one overall in the 2007 study, number 2 in 2009, and slipped to number 4 in the study released on Thursday.

North Dakota came in first in the newest study, followed by South Dakota, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma. At the bottom of the ranking, New York ranks worst by a significant margin, with rent control and insurance regulations dragging down its regulatory freedom score.

California ranked 49th, followed by New Jersey, Hawaii, and Rhode Island.

"On regulatory policy, New Hampshire's ranking is mediocre, although it has slightly and gradually improved since 2001," according to the Mercatus researchers. "Eminent domain reforms have gone far, but exclusionary local zoning laws have driven out affordable housing in the suburbs of southern New Hampshire. Labor-market freedom is subpar: The state lacks a right-to-work law and has a universal workers' compensation mandate. Telecom and cable remain regulated. New Hampshire fares better than average on occupational freedom, and its liability system is one of the best."

New Hampshire remains one of the few states to score well on both economic and personal freedom.

The study recommends the state establish tighter criteria for the issuance of state and local debt; enact a state law limiting what local government can do to restrict new housing; and expand legal gaming beyond charity games.

The Mercatus Center is a nonprofit research organization funded by donations from companies like Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, as well as individual donors and foundations.



dsolomon@unionleader.com



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