Utah State Overview
Utah joins the top 10 freest states for the first time, having moved up in each year coded for this book—from 28th in 2001 to 23rd in 2007 to 17th in 2009 to 10th in 2011. As one might expect, the state performs better in the fiscal and regulatory policy dimensions than on personal freedom, and certainly has some idiosyncrasies that affect its performance.
Utah performs particularly well in the economic realm, ranking eighth out of all the states. In terms of fiscal policy, Utah remains a low-tax state with better-than-average fiscal decentralization and government employment. However, the state could do a lot better on spending and debt.
Utah’s regulatory scores are quite high, largely due to its excellent liability system, which is more than a standard deviation better than the mean. Health insurance mandates are much less numerous than the national average (Utah is again a standard deviation better), and it is a right-to-work state. However, Utah has a lot of room for improvement. The state scores quite poorly on certain occupational freedoms, due to extensive licensing as well as high fees and educational requirements. It is only average on residential land-use restrictions. More extensive eminent domain reform is needed.
The Beehive State performs poorly in many categories under personal freedom, though it is roughly middle of the pack overall in this dimension. Utah has by far the tightest alcohol regulations in the country. It is one of only three states with total state control over alcohol distribution, the only state to ban all beer kegs, and the only state other than Tennessee to do all of the following: require server training, allow local communities to enact blue laws, and ban “happy hour” promotions. Effective tax rates on alcohol are also high. Utah is the only state to proscribe all forms of gambling, including social gambling (though it does not expressly prohibit Internet gambling). Tobacco laws are also fairly strict, with complete smoking bans outside the home. However, cigarette taxes are still only marginally higher than average, despite being raised substantially since 2009. Otherwise, it is similar to many of its neighbors in the Rocky Mountain states, with light gun control, few restrictions on motorists, and basic regulation of private and home schools. Victimless crimes arrest rates are worse (higher) than average. The drug arrest rate, however, is better (lower) than average. Utah’s asset forfeiture laws are considerably better than those of many of the surrounding states.
- Reduce government debt by cutting spending, especially on general administration and public buildings.
- Eliminate occupational licensing for taxi drivers and chauffeurs, funeral attendants, occupational therapist assistants, recreational therapists, interpreters and translators, and other occupations.
- Resist the urge to raise cigarette taxes beyond recent increases.