Georgia State Overview
Georgia is an urbanizing Deep South state, which makes for a decidedly mixed personal freedom situation, but the state’s rapid economic growth reflects a strong economic freedom environment.
The state and local debt ratio is one of the lowest in the country, at 15.6 percent of income. Its overall tax burden, at 8.6 percent of personal income, is as low as Florida’s, and the state is relatively fiscally decentralized. However, government employment, at 13.0 percent of private employment, ranks only about average.
Georgia’s labor laws are quite free, with no minimum wage, a right-to-work law, a highly liberalized workers’ compensation system, and none of the other labor regulations tracked by the freedom index—but after this edition’s closing date the state unfortunately passed an E-Verify mandate, though this is not enough on its own to dent Georgia’s fairly good regulatory freedom ranking. Telecom and cable have been deregulated. Georgia also enjoys one of the best court systems in the South, though it only ranks about average nationally. Non-physician medical professions are tightly restricted, and the state has a certificate-of-need (CON) law for hospital construction. While the state has reformed eminent domain abuse, local zoning laws score only about average, putting the state well behind neighbors Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Health insurance freedom ranks slightly better than average, with mandated benefits worse than average but price controls and community rating in small group and nongroup markets largely absent.
Georgia has less-restrictive gun control regulations than all its neighboring states except Tennessee. Unsurprisingly, the state scores poorly on marijuana, gambling, asset forfeiture, victimless crimes, and same-sex partnerships. Georgia has fairly restrictive laws on road users, with primary seat belt enforcement, motorcycle and bicycle helmet laws, an open container law, and sobriety checkpoints. Georgia barely regulates private schools at all, but its home school regulations are quite strict, including teacher qualification requirements. It is one of the best states in the nation for the freedom to purchase and enjoy tobacco on private property.
- Reduce government employment to Florida’s rate, from 13 percent to 11 percent of the private workforce: this would have been sufficient to raise Georgia one place on overall freedom, even if taxes were not cut as a result.
- Require benefit-cost analysis (or even better, compensation) for new regulatory takings and enact statewide constraints on the ability of local governments to practice exclusionary zoning.
- Permit some form of for-profit gaming enterprises and legalize social gambling. In FY 2010, Georgia was one of the few states in the country not to derive any revenues from private gaming.