-By Warner Todd Huston
One can’t be surprised that Obama’s home state of Illinois is one of the worst five states in the nation–like it is for most other things–in the Mercatus Center’s study of the level of freedom in each state. Naturally Illinois ranks close to the bottom of the most free states.
This is unsurprising since Illinois is situated at the bottom of all states in several different categories of what makes a successful state.
In this new Mercatus survey, Illinois has slipped two spots since last time now ranking as the 45th state on that evolving scale.
Analysis of Ranking
Illinois is one of the least free states to live in from the perspective of regulatory policy and personal freedom, but on fiscal policy it ranks in the middle of the pack. However, there are still some fiscal issues in dire need of improvement.
Illinois’s tax burden is dead-center average, while government spending and employment are below average. Government spending has been increasing over time, however, and certain categories, such as employee retirement, are way out of line with national norms. The main fiscal problem is debt: state and local debt make up 25.1 percent of personal income.
As for real property rights protection, Illinois’s score is mediocre. Zoning laws rank about average, the state has failed to reform eminent domain significantly, and there are no state-level restrictions on regulatory takings, but the state at least manages to avoid rent control. As for labor law, Illinois possesses the third-highest minimum wage in the nation, adjusted for private wages. As for occupational freedom, the state is below average, and the quality of its court system is well below average—and dropping. In life and property/casualty insurance markets it is one of the least regulated states.
In the personal freedom dimension, Illinois has the sixth harshest gun control laws in the country, though these were improved by the McDonald v. Chicago decision striking down local gun bans. The state’s victimless crimes arrest rates are very high. In 2010, arrests for victimless crimes (excluding minors) made up over 1.5 percent of the state’s population; the vast majority of these were for drugs.1
However, that figure is actually an improvement on 2008. Illinois’s marijuana laws are more restrictive than Georgia’s, which is surprising for a left-leaning state. Its asset forfeiture laws are also among the worst in the nation. On the plus side, Illinois’s home school regulations were effectively as minimal as Idaho’s—a case of benign neglect, it seems. The state’s marriage freedom score will improve in the next version of the index since civil unions were legalized in 2011.
- Tighten the rules for new debt by state and local governments, and find ways to reduce future liabilities for employee retirement, where the state already spends more than any other state except Alaska, New York, and Ohio.
- End partisan elections for the state supreme court in order to improve the court system.
- Decriminalize marijuana, legalize medical marijuana, and repeal the Salvia ban.2
1. Since a person can be arrested multiple times in a year, it is likely that less than 1.5 percent of Illinois’s population was arrested for victimless crimes in 2010.
2. Dramatically liberalizing gun control laws might make a bigger difference, but Illinois’s political culture is unlikely to tolerate such a thing.
Here are just a few of the “low lights” of Illinois’ standing among the states:
- Illinois has the most underfunded pensions in the country and faces a deficit growth of $17 million per day.
- The state also has the worst funded teachers pensions in the country.
- Illinois was identified as one of the worst states in the union for its oppressive, jobs-killing lawsuit climate
- Illinois had more home foreclosures than almost every other state.
- Illinois ranks as the 49th worst debtor state in the nation.
- Illinois was ranked the 48th worst state for business.
- Illinois ranked 48th for unemployment making it among the worst five states for joblessness.
- Its government also has one of the worst rankings for state transparency and accountability in the nation, too.
- As to big city stats, Chicago tops the nation with the highest unemployment rate.
- Illinois has the worst credit rating
- Illinois Tops Nation in Growth of Food Stamp Recipients
- Mercatus: Illinois ranks at the bottom of the most free states
In light of all this, the fact that Illinois has an increasing number of its citizens on food stamps should not come as a shock to anyone.