Wyoming State Overview
Wyoming saw the biggest decline in overall freedom over the last decade. In terms of its relative freedom ranking, the Equality State ranks 36th, down from 31st just two years ago. Wyoming’s steep decline is largely due to falling personal income since the 2007 recession, which has a particularly negative impact on the state’s fiscal policy score. This may be, to a considerable extent, an artifact of Wyoming’s unusual, energy-dependent economy.
Nonetheless, in economic matters, Wyoming would be wise to emulate its neighbors South Dakota, Idaho, and Utah. It has the highest taxes as a percentage of personal income in the region. Wyoming also spends too much. Its spending is nearly 2.5 standard deviations above the mean! Government payrolls are much too large, closing in on three standard deviations above the national average. At least Wyoming is fiscally decentralized and has not allowed its spending to elevate debt levels. The state is blessed with the lowest government debt ratio in the United States (at more than two standard deviations from the mean). Its citizens are fortunate that severance taxes provide a large part of the state’s revenue.
Wyoming performs better on regulatory policy than fiscal policy. It is in the top five states in terms of health insurance freedom and occupational freedom. Health insurance regulations are among the least intrusive in the country; health coverage mandates are nearly a standard deviation below average. Wyoming also performs well on occupational freedom. Labor laws are generally market-friendly—and Wyoming is a right-to-work state—though Wyoming requires employers to contribute to a state monopoly fund for workers’ compensation. Its liability system and land-use regulations are better than average, and some eminent domain reform has occurred. Telecom and cable require deregulation.
Wyoming is close to the median state for personal freedom. However, it ranks as one of the worst in the country in terms of victimless crimes arrests and crime rate—adjusted incarceration rates. Just bringing these rates to the national mean level would have made Wyoming one of the freest states in terms of personal freedom and improved its overall ranking by three. On the plus side, Wyoming has very little gun control and ranks among the best states in this category. It is mediocre on alcohol freedom, with restrictive keg laws and state control of wholesale distribution of some wine and spirits. However, beer taxes remain the lowest in the country, while spirits taxes are also very low. Motorist freedoms are broad and drivers do not face sobriety checkpoints. Cigarette taxes are low, and smoking bans have exceptions. However, Wyoming’s drug enforcement rate is average. Private schools are somewhat regulated while home schools are not, except for strict notification requirements. Wyoming has the worst type of asset forfeiture regime in the country.
- Reduce the number of state employees to levels more consistent with national norms.
- Deregulate telecom and cable.
- Reform the victimless crimes regime until it is consistent with national norms.