Mississippi State Overview
Perhaps the most conservative state in the Union, Mississippi has opportunities to improve its rankings in all three dimensions of freedom.
In fiscal policy the state is average despite scoring very poorly on two variables in this category. Mississippi can only maintain skyhigh spending and government employment alongside lower-than-average taxes and debt by depending heavily on federal grants.
The state scores fairly well in some areas of regulatory policy, but terribly in others. Land-use freedom is high: in 2011, after this study’s closing date, a ballot initiative successfully enacted eminent domain reform after years of stonewalling by governor Haley Barbour. Mississippi is a right-to-work state with generally excellent labor laws, apart from an E-Verify mandate. Health insurance regulations are also better than average. However, occupational freedom and miscellaneous regulatory freedoms are mediocre at best, cable and telecom have not been deregulated, and the state’s liability system is infamously one of the worst in the country (although the state improved significantly between 2002 and 2007).
Mississippi’s marijuana laws are among the harshest in the country: despite “decriminalization” of the first offense of very low-level possession (the penalty is a fine), one can get life in prison for a single conviction of high-level cultivation or sale. Drug arrests are among the highest in the country, and incarceration rates are astronomical. Gambling is more tolerated than in most states, except that social gaming is illegal. Private and home school regulation is light. Same-sex marriage is banned, and even opposite-sex marriages face archaic blood test and waiting period requirements. Campaign finance is unregulated, and the state is one of the best for tobacco freedom, although it slipped slightly in 2009—10.
- Clamp down on government employment and spending in areas such as health and hospitals, where Mississippi far outspends every other state as a percentage of its economy, and in other areas where the state spends more than average: education, public buildings, highways, public welfare, miscellaneous commercial activities, and employee retirement. Cut sales and business income taxes.
- Pass tort reform (e.g., shared discovery costs, loser pays) to improve the liability system; Mississippi also has nonpartisan judicial elections, and there is some evidence that these are bad for court quality, although not as bad as partisan elections.1
- Eliminate mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders and reform sentencing so as to reduce the incarceration rate dramatically.