Kentucky jumps in "Freedom in the 50 States" rankings
The Cato Institute, a Washington DC based think-tank has released the fifth edition of their “Freedom in the 50 States” report. The data set ends at year-end 2016, so most movement from the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions is not included in this edition of the report.
In the report Kentucky ranks 32nd, up 8 spots from 2014. It seeks to quantify and rank states based on human freedom. The rankings include three main categories; fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom. A full breakdown of the factors that are included in those categories is available here.
The two largest factors contributing to Kentucky’s jump are improved regulatory policy and labor policy stemming from passage of the Right-to-Work law.
The improvement in regulatory policy, where Kentucky is ranked 18th, is largely attributable to Governor Bevin’s Red Tape Reduction initiative which began in 2016. While most of the other data ends on December 31st, 2016, it appears the authors included the changes stemming from the Right-to-Work bill passed in early 2017.
The report points to a number of areas Kentucky needs to improve, including government debt (Kentucky is ranked 49th, better only than New York), certificate of need regulations, educational freedom, and rate of incarceration. It also notes Kentucky’s high rate of state taxation and the need to repeal the prevailing wage law.
Luckily, in 2017 the General Assembly did repeal Kentucky’s prevailing wage law and during the 2018 legislative session, eliminated the progressive income tax and lowed the rate to 5%. Cooperation between Governor Bevin and the Legislature also resulted in, for the first time in more than a decade, fully funding Kentucky’s daunting pension obligations. Pensions remain a problem, but full funding and reform are moving Kentucky in the right direction.
Much work remains however. Kentucky is still one of only a handful of states with no private school choice. While Kentucky enacted a Charter school law in 2017, without a permanent funding mechanism, it is unlikely that strong national operators will come into the state. Kentucky also lacks any sort of tax credit scholarship for students to attend private schools.
Kentucky’s certificate of need laws, as Jordan Harris detailed in a recent report, are among the most expansive and burdensome in the nation and are in desperate need of reform.
While Kentucky’s incarceration story is a complicated one, one thing is certain, Judges need more options when sentencing defendants. Strong, community-based supervision that comes with meaningful consequences and oversight can help ease the flow of offenders into prisons and jails that still too often lack sufficient programming and resources.
The Cato rankings aren’t a definitive blue print to a great state, but they do highlight some of Kentucky’s progress and areas that still need attention. If Kentucky hopes to continue to move forward, we must address the things holding us back.