The Dakotas are the freest states in the nation, according to a newly released list.
South Dakota is second and North Dakota is first on the list, compiled by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and released Thursday. The list is part of a report titled "Freedom in the 50 States."
The Mercatus Center, viewed by some observers as anti-regulation and libertarian-leaning, regularly ranks states on a combination of personal and economic freedoms. The freedom index considers 50 factors, including personal income and tax burdens as well as the debt burdens of state and local government.
Rounding out the top five freest states on the list are Tennessee, New Hampshire and Oklahoma.
The five least-free states, according to the study, are Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Jersey, California and New York.
North Dakota received high scores for its fiscal policy, low taxes and friendly business environment.
The report criticizes North Dakota for government spending, government payroll and the highest level of victimless-crime arrest rates.
Among individual categories considered for the study, South Dakota placed first in overall fiscal freedom, due to low levels of taxation. It was also first in fiscal policy because of its low spending and debt levels.
The state was also given kudos for its effective, but not stifling, health and labor laws, its liability system and its residential land-use regulations.
South Dakota's use of eminent domain -- the condemnation of private property for public use -- was dunned. "Eminent domain," said the analysis, "has been reformed extensively, but could go further."
The study said South Dakota's personal freedoms are not as strong as its economic freedoms.
It said the state's incarceration rates and victimless-crime arrest rates are high but also acknowledged those rates are falling. It said reducing the high arrest rate would have raised the state's personal freedom rating significantly.
The report also recommends reducing government employment and ending sales taxes on food.
The report cites high taxes and overspending by government among the reasons New York is ranked as the least-free state. The index criticized California, in 49th place, for its over-regulation of business.
The complete report can be found online here.
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