CATO: Pennsylvania ‘freer’ than neighboring states

By Christen Smith | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – A new analysis from the CATO Institute found that Pennsylvania ranks 18th nationwide for “personal and economic freedom.”

The commonwealth rated higher than all of its neighbors, according to the report, based on laws and regulations that impact personal, regulatory, and financial liberties.

Pennsylvania ranks fifth overall for policies related to the latter, including taxes, government employment, spending, debt, and fiscal decentralization. Still, the amount expended on welfare programs, parking lots, and public buildings needs to be reined in, the institute said.

Republican lawmakers in the House have called for welfare reform over the last year over concerns about fraud and waste plaguing the system. The governor’s administration, however, has said it will prioritize transitioning beneficiaries out of the programs after pandemic-era waivers expired and left millions across the country ineligible for coverage.

It’s not the only reform mentioned in the report that lawmakers have already proposed.

Regulatory policy ranks 37th in the nation due to “mediocre” land-use freedom, low minimum wage, no right-to-work laws, low insurance mandates, and limits on nurse practitioner authority. Bills to address all of the issues pend in the legislature but lack majority support.

Personal freedoms fared better, coming in at 34 overall. The institute cited Pennsylvania’s “mediocre” criminal justice policies that have both lowered drug arrests and raised incarceration rates. While the medical marijuana program earns the state good marks, no effort to decriminalize low-level possession lag many other states.

The report also dinged Pennsylvania for its “paternalistic” regulations placed on private schools and homeschools. Loosening these, in addition to giving nurse practitioners independent practicing authority, would improve the state’s overall rankings, the institute said. 

The top five freest states include New Hampshire, Florida, South Dakota, Nevada, and Arizona. Rounding out the bottom five are Oregon, New Jersey, California, Hawaii, and New York.

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