Ohio is the 33rd “freest” state in the nation, an improvement of four spots from 2009, according to a university study released Thursday.
The study from the Mercatus Center of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. says Ohio should cut taxes and spending on public safety, administration, social services and government employee retiree benefits to levels “more consistent with national norms.”
The study also advises the state to adopt “right to work” laws such as Ohio neighbors Indiana and Michigan have already adopted. Such laws allow companies to hire workers if they opt not to pay union dues or be involved with a union. Twenty-two states have such laws.
Jason Sorens, a co-author of the report, said Ohio, especially compared to its immediate neighbors in the Great Lakes region, ranks “about average.”
“But average may not be good enough because the whole region has experienced an outflow of people and weak economic growth,” Sorens said.
The report points to Indiana as a “model Rust Belt state” in terms of regulatory policy and reform. Indiana ranks 16th on the report’s list, while Ohio is either slightly above or below other neighbors.
The study generally regards low taxes, low government spending and light regulatory burdens, among other traits, as indicative of freedom. The ranking lists North Dakota as the nation’s most free state and New York its least free. (To see the report, go to: http://freedominthe50states.org.)
Robert Premus, a Wright State University economics professor, said data shows that over time right-to-work states do perform better in business development than non-right-to-work states like Ohio. But he also said such status is only one factor business owners consider.
But Robert Premus added that he is skeptical of the report.
“I just don’t have much confidence in these measures of freedom indices,” Premus said. “They’re very subjective.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has touted his administration’s transformation of an $8 billion deficit into the rebuilding of the state rainy day fund. He recently proposed cuttings taxes while expanding the number of services to which the sales tax is attached.
“While we’ve cut taxes by more than $800 million and balanced an $8 billion budget hole without raising taxes, we agree there is more work to do,” said Kasich spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp. “The size of state government is the smallest it’s been in 30 years, but we continue to examine opportunities, both at the state and local levels, to identify savings and improve efficiencies.”
Ohio and its neighbors ranked
Ohio — 33rd
Indiana — 16th
Pennsylvania — 31st
Michigan — 35th
West Virginia — 42nd