On Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu joined leaders of the free-market Cato Institute in Manchester to celebrate the state’s place at the top of the Freedom Index.
And the Granite State did it with a record performance.
“New Hampshire is once again the freest state in the Union and in 2022 set the record for the highest freedom score ever recorded in the 21st century,” the Cato Institute said in a statement. “Gov. Chris Sununu and the New Hampshire legislature have much to be proud of.”
Sununu told the politicians and activists at the Stark Brewing Company that he was proud. But he also knows New Hampshire can’t afford to rest on its laurels.
“It’s not our first time on the top,” Sununu said, referencing the fact that New Hampshire has led the list since 2011. “Now the challenge is going back to the legislature and saying, ‘How are we going to push ourselves? What else can we strive for?”
New Hampshire held the top spot, followed by Florida, South Dakota, Nevada, and Arizona. At the bottom of the economic freedom list are Oregon, New Jersey, California, Hawaii, and — in last place — New York.
The news came days after New Hampshire was named the best place in all of North America for economic freedom by the Canada-based Fraser Institute.
“Once again, New Hampshire is setting the model for the rest of the country for how government efficiency allows for individuals, families, and businesses to thrive,” Sununu said in a statement Wednesday. “The proof is in the pudding: When you cut taxes, spend money wisely, and slash overbearing, burdensome regulations like we’ve done in New Hampshire, freedom and the economy flourish.”
On hand for the Cato event were Maxwell Hymen, the organization’s director for government affairs, and the two scholars responsible for the study, William Ruger and Jason Sorens. The study used more than 230 policy variables to evaluate the states in areas ranging from tax rates to restrictions on legal marijuana.
On the plus side for New Hampshire, Ruger said, “New Hampshire’s overall tax burden is really low, well below the national average of 7.4 percent. Not surprising for a state that is full of tax rebels. And your government debt, consumption, and employment are lower than average, and it [has] really improved since 2010.
“So you’re doing a good job keeping the government small enough that, as Grover Norquist says, you can strangle it in a bathtub,” Ruger added.
On the downside, according to Sorens, Having a retail liquor system run by the state, “marijuana’s not yet lawful,” and the fact that New Hampshire isn’t a right-to-work state. And because the report is comprehensive and includes local government policies, Cato suggested one improvement New Hampshire needs to make is for communities to get a handle on their property taxes and high spending. They also lobbied for universal Education Freedom Account access, not the current system, which has income caps.
Sununu agreed with many of the critiques. On legalized pot, for example, Sununu acknowledged, “I’m not a huge believer in the idea [but] I understand it’s inevitable, and I think we have an opportunity to actually do it right.”
Greg Moore, New Hampshire state director at Americans for Prosperity, offered a litany of examples he said bolstered Cato’s conclusion.
“Just this past year, New Hampshire phased out the interest and dividends tax, eliminating the last income tax in the state. This year, we also expanded the incredibly popular education freedom accounts to include more New Hampshire students. The legislature also restored property rights by creating the land-use docket in the Superior Court.
“AFP-NH is proud of the progress our activists and policy champions have made in advancing the New Hampshire Advantage.”
Sununu repeatedly pointed out that New Hampshire’s gains of today could be gone tomorrow, depending on the outcome of future elections. He predicted Democrats will, at some point, control the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature, and they could completely kill the state’s Education Freedom Account program or impose business tax hikes they have long battled for.
Not coincidentally, both GOP candidates for governor — Kelly Ayotte and Chuck Morse — were on hand Thursday.
The political risks of policy reversal are particularly real for New Hampshire, which stands out from the deep-blue politics of New England and the Northeast. (No other New England state made the top 25 of Cato’s Freedom Index.)
“Folks are voting with their feet, and we are one of the only states in the Northeast that’s growing in population, right? A lot of times, people will say, ‘I’m moving to New Hampshire. That place is great. We love it,’” Sununu said.
“The same with Florida. Gov. DeSantis and I have gone back and forth on this — we’ve got to remind these people why they came. Yes, you all came from New York, that’s great. Now leave your politics back in New York.”