Missouri State Overview
Missouri has long been a relatively free state, and it has consistently moved in a direction of greater freedom, at least greater economic freedom, over the last decade. The freedom index registers a slight downturn in 2009—10, but this was driven almost entirely by a decline in the liability system score, which might be the result of sampling error rather than actual policy change.
Missouri has generally low taxes (at 8.3 percent of personal income), government spending (with consumption plus subsidies at 10.4 percent of income), and public employment (at 13.0 percent of private employment), and the state is somewhat decentralized. The only fiscal category in which Missouri fares poorly compared to the rest of the country is debt, which rose from 18.5 percent of income in FY 2008 to 20.3 percent of income in FY 2010.
Local zoning is limited, and an economic assessment is required before a regulatory taking, but the state has failed to reform eminent domain sufficiently. Missouri is not a right-to-work state, but the workers’ compensation mandate has exemptions for very small businesses and farm workers. Most aspects of health insurance are not very strictly regulated, but the state ranks quite a bit worse than average on benefit mandates, which add 45.3 percent to the cost of mandate-free premiums. Missouri is one of the top states for occupational freedom but could do more to liberate nurse practitioners, dental hygienists, and physician assistants from scope-of-practice limits. Cable and telecom have been deregulated.
Gun control is very light in Missouri, especially for a diverse, fairly urban, historically centrist state. The alcohol regime is one of the least restrictive in the United States, with no blue laws and taxes well below average. Unfortunately, marijuana sentencing is extremely harsh: Missouri has among the harshest cannabis laws in the country, and it jumped on the Salvia “ban wagon” early. Not surprisingly, incarceration and drug arrest rates are fairly high, though not at Deep South levels. Several types of gambling are legal and regulated, but oddly there is no social gambling exception. Other than strict recordkeeping requirements, private and home schools are moderately regulated. Missouri ranks best in the nation on tobacco freedom.
- Control state and local debt, especially by controlling spending on areas such as police and fire protection, health and hospitals, libraries, and parks, where the state spends more than the national average.
- Pass a right-to-work law, ideally with a clause applying the provision solely to workplaces certified by the National Labor Relations Board. (See the rationale for this recommendation in part 1.)
- Reform marijuana sentencing by making possession a misdemeanor and reducing the maximum possible sentence far below life in prison, which it is currently.