#19 Colorado

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The education category takes into account requirements and restrictions for private and homeschools.

From 2009

Colorado State Overview

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) 5.1 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 0.40 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


Colorado used to be a moderately conservative state, but it has moved left over the last 12 years. Its freedom score is one of the “most worsened” in the country over the 2001 to 2011 period.

Still, Colorado scores better than average for its fiscal policies and is the second most fiscally decentralized state in the country, with localities raising 50.7 percent of all state and local revenues. However, its state and local debt burden is high, at 23.6 percent of personal income, an increase of 3.6 percent in four years. From FY 2006 to FY 2010, Colorado’s measured tax burden increased from 8.3 percent to 9.2 percent.

Colorado’s local zoning laws are strict, there are no state-level limitations on regulatory takings, and even eminent domain reform has been halfhearted. Colorado’s labor laws are subpar, with a minimum wage and no right-to-work law. Colorado now has some of the most expensive health insurance benefit mandates in the country, adding 55.9 percent to the cost of a policy with no mandated coverages, a dramatic increase from year-end 2008. In other respects, too, Colorado scores poorly on health insurance freedom, especially because of community rating and “prior approval” price controls in the nongroup and small-group markets. Cable franchising and telecom regulation are unreformed. Colorado is the top state in the nation for occupational freedom—it especially stands out on health professionals’ scope of practice. The court system is better than average, and there is no certificate-of-need (CON) law.

The state has resisted somewhat the temptation of “sin taxes,” with moderate levies on beer, wine, spirits, and cigarettes. Colorado has decriminalized low-level marijuana possession (after the closing date of this study, a ballot initiative went further and legalized recreational marijuana cultivation, possession, and sale, within regulatory limits). Arrests for drug offenses, relative to state usage, are a standard deviation better (lower) than the national average, but the crime rate—adjusted incarceration rate is nearly three-quarters of a standard deviation worse (higher) than the national average. On private school regulation, the state has a light touch but falls short with its fairly detailed curriculum requirements. Its home school laws are only about average, with recordkeeping requirements particularly onerous.

Policy Recommendations

  • Reduce government spending on parks (a category that excludes conservation lands), where the state spends more than twice the national average. Allow TABOR (the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights), as amended, to take full effect once more.
  • Allow full competition in telecom and cable services, and enact statewide video franchising.
  • Reform the sentencing of nonviolent offenders to reduce the incarceration rate to what would be expected given the state’s crime rate. It is possible that marijuana legalization will accomplish this on its own.
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