West Virginia State Overview
West Virginia is within the bottom 10 states in overall freedom, at 42nd. It has a long way to go, especially on the economic side. It may surprise readers that West Virginia—not often thought of as one of the more socially progressive states—ranks ninth on personal freedom.
The state’s fiscal policy rank is mediocre, but could be worse. Spending is high, especially education spending. However, West Virginia’s overall tax burden is better than average. Unlike Washington and Oregon, West Virginia has not acquired a huge debt burden from its mix of aggressive spending and relatively low taxes. However, selective sales, fuel, and utility taxes are among the highest in the country. Furthermore, West Virginia had very high corporate net income tax rates, which were reduced after the data cutoff date for this study and are scheduled to fall further in the future, assuming rainy- day fund requirements are met.16 The state is quite fiscally centralized, and government employment is more than a standard deviation higher than the national average.
West Virginia suffers from an abundance of regulation. It is ranked second-worst in this dimension (only California is worse). The state does well on residential land-use regulations. However, eminent domain could be more thoroughly reformed. The state’s liability system is the worst in the country, at more than three standard deviations below average. Its labor laws are slightly below average. West Virginia is not a right-to-work state. The state is mediocre on health insurance freedom. Health insurance coverage mandates are slightly greater than average. Utility deregulation is nonexistent.
West Virginia has a slightly above-average level of victimless crimes arrests, but its drug enforcement rate is low. Its asset forfeiture laws need reform. Gun control laws are quite liberal, though the state could broaden its no-duty-to-retreat rule. Marijuana laws are fairly moderate. Beer, wine, and spirits taxes are fairly low. Cigarette taxes are quite low, though local smoking bans exist. West Virginia has a helmet law and authorizes sobriety checkpoints, but there is no cell phone ban. Some gambling, including slot machines, is allowed, but social gambling is technically prohibited. West Virginia imposes teacher qualifications on homeschoolers, as well as annual standardized testing and extensive notification requirements. There is also a kindergarten attendance requirement.
- Cut state employment, which is well above the national average. Also work to reduce spending in areas above the national averages (such as education, administration, highways, and welfare). Continuing to reduce the corporate income tax will make the state more competitive for investment.
- Reform the state’s liability and asset forfeiture laws.
- Increase educational freedom by loosening regulations on homeschoolers and joining the other 48 states that do not mandate full-day kindergarten attendance.