Rhode Island State Overview
Rhode Island is one of the least free states in the country and performs poorly in all three dimensions of freedom. It has been a relatively less free state for some time, but has still declined in both its ranking and in overall freedom over the last decade.
Rhode Island performs fairly well on spending, government employment, and fiscal decentralization. It is actually better than average in all three areas. The rest of its fiscal policy scores badly. Taxes and debt are very high.
Rhode Island also fares poorly in the regulatory realm. The state is more than two standard deviations worse than the mean on residential land-use regulation. Eminent domain reform is practically nonexistent. At least it does not have rent control! Its liability system is below average. Rhode Island has one of the worst records on labor market freedom and health insurance regulations. It is one of the few states to require employers to provide short-term disability insurance. On health insurance, Rhode Island has a large number of coverage mandates and has adjusted community rating for small group health insurance. On the plus side, it ranks in the top 10 for occupational freedom. The state has deregulated telecom and cable.
Rhode Island scores better on personal freedom but is still below average. It performs extremely well on freedom from victimless crimes, ranking second in the country. If Rhode Island had scored only average on incarceration, its personal freedom ranking would have plummeted to 44th; thus, the state should keep up the good work here. Rhode Island is more than a standard deviation better than average on its drug arrest rate. The state has enacted civil unions since the data cutoff date for this edition of the freedom index. Gun control is quite strict. Alcohol regulations are strict, but taxes are generally low. Rhode Island scores poorly on tobacco and gaming freedom; it has the second highest cigarette taxes in the country and extensive smoking bans. Travel freedoms are broad compared to other northeastern states; Rhode Island does not authorize sobriety checkpoints and does not have a motorcycle helmet law (though it does mandate bicycle helmets). Private school and home school restrictions are among the worst in the country. Private schools must obtain government approval to open and their teachers must be licensed. There is detailed state curriculum control for private and home schools. Asset forfeiture restrictions are nearly a full standard deviation worse than average. Prostitution was again outlawed in 2009.
- Cut spending locally on police and fire departments and at the state level on employee retirement and unemployment compensation and public welfare. All are far above average. Property taxes are especially high and could stand trimming.
- Reform eminent domain laws and other land-use regulations.
- Liberalize private school and homeschooling laws.