#29 Washington

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The overall freedom ranking is a combination of personal and economic freedoms.

From 2009

Washington State Overview

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) 4.1 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 0.62 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


Washington ranks in the middle of the freedom index. However, its freedom score has been improving since 2007.

Like Oregon, state spending is quite high (nearly a standard deviation higher than average) while taxes are fairly low—a recipe for government debt, which Washington has in abundance. Government employment also is much too high.

Residential land-use regulations are extensive and more than a standard deviation worse than average. Minimal eminent domain legislation has been enacted, but further reform is needed. Labor market freedom is scored among the worst in the country; the state has the second highest effective minimum wage, adjusted for average wages, in the country. Washington’s score is third worst in terms of health insurance freedom. It has adjusted community rating for health insurance and extensive coverage mandates. Nurse practitioners, though, can practice independently of medical doctors. The state liability system is a bit above average. Washington has failed to deregulate telecom and cable.

Washington performs well above average in terms of personal freedom. It ranks 16th, and should improve in the next edition of this book due to the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage in 2012. For a liberal state, Washington’s gun control laws remain quite modest. Washington is a top-five state in terms of freedom from victimless crimes. Marijuana laws were already better than average even before the 2012 changes. The state is one of only three that allow physician-assisted suicide. Washington does not perform so well in other areas of personal freedom. Only one state is worse on alcohol freedom: Washington imposes tight controls on alcohol and its taxes on spirits are the highest in the country by far (but state liquor stores were privatized after this study’s closing date). Beer taxes are also high. Washington is also one of the worst-ranked states for tobacco freedoms—only three states have higher cigarette taxes. Smoking bans are also extensive. Gambling is restricted, but social gaming is allowed. Educational regulation is intrusive: private schools need state approval and under certain conditions licensed teachers, and homeschoolers need to meet teacher qualifications, participate in annual standardized testing, and follow extensive recordkeeping rules, along with other requirements. Washington’s asset forfeiture laws are among the worst in the country, at a full standard deviation worse than average.

Policy Recommendations

  • Reduce spending until it is consistent with Washington’s relatively decent tax burden levels, starting by reducing government employment and spending on unemployment and workers’ compensation, which are all above national norms.
  • Better protect property rights by enacting further-reaching eminent domain reform and reducing centralized land-use planning by repealing or amending the Growth Management Act and the Shoreline Management Act.
  • Liberalize the alcohol and tobacco regimes, including reducing spirits and beer taxes until they are consistent with national averages.
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