Oregon State Overview
Oregon remains the second-freest Pacific state, but it earned the dubious distinction of having the greatest loss of freedom in the country over the last two years. The state saw increases to its debt level, spending, taxes, and health insurance mandates.
Despite the changes in the state’s fiscal policy, Oregon remains above average in that dimension. Yet this says as much about the state of the country as it does about Oregon. State and local government spending remains high (nearly a standard deviation above the mean), which in conjunction with low taxes makes for high (and rising) state debt. Government employment is about average, but there is fat to trim.
In the regulatory realm, Oregon ranks below average. Its liability system and real property rights protection are mediocre. Eminent domain reform could go further. Residential land-use regulation is fairly onerous. Oregon does require compensation for some regulatory takings. The state’s minimum wage is the highest in the country when adjusted for average wages. Labor laws generally rank poorly, with workers’ compensation approaching two standard deviations worse than the mean. Occupational licensing is excessive while licensing fees and educational requirements are extremely high. However, nurse practitioners are allowed to practice independently of medical doctors. Health insurance coverage mandates have shifted above the national average, and the state has adjusted community rating for individuals and small group health insurance.
Oregon performs about average on personal freedom. Arrests for victimless crimes are surprisingly high. Gun control laws are a bit better than average. The state’s cigarette taxes are now lower than average, but its smoking bans are tight. Oregon’s spirits tax is the second highest in the country, although its beer and wine taxes are better than average. Oregon is ranked fifth on marijuana freedom, but failed to legalize marijuana use, cultivation, and sale at the ballot box in 2012—the latter two are felonies. Marijuana possession is decriminalized below a certain level, and medical marijuana is legal. Oregon is one of the few states that refuses to authorize sobriety checkpoints. However, it has a ban on handheld cell phone usage for drivers, with primary enforcement, and requires motorcyclists and young bicyclists to wear helmets. Social gambling is authorized, but otherwise the state does poorly on gaming freedom. Oregon is the only state besides Washington and Montana to permit physician-assisted suicide. The state also allows the sale of raw milk and has a domestic partnership law. Private and home school regulations are reasonable. Oregon also does quite well on asset forfeiture.
- Cut spending in order to reduce public debt. Reducing outlays on public safety, government employees’ retirement benefits, health and hospitals, and public welfare would bring these areas down to national averages.
- Eliminate occupational licensing for massage therapists, funeral attendants, pest control workers, agricultural product graders and sorters, and other occupations.
- Legalize “low-level” possession, cultivation, and sale of marijuana.