Here is what my coauthor William Ruger and I wrote about New Hampshire in the 2011 edition of Freedom in the 50 States: Index of Personal and Economic Freedom:
New Hampshire is by our count the freest state in the country. Depending on weights, however, it really shares the slot with South Dakota. New Hampshire does much better on economic than personal freedom and on fiscal than regulatory policy. Under unified Democratic control in 2007-8, the state saw a respectable increase in freedom. A smoking ban was enacted, but so were same-sex civil unions. Taxes, spending, and fiscal decentralization remain over a standard deviation better than average, and government debt actually went down slightly.
We are going to write something very different in the 2013 edition, coming out early next year. The 2009-10 legislature, also under unified Democratic control, went on a spending and tax-hiking binge. They did this even as states like North and South Dakota were already strengthening market-friendly policies in many areas. As a result, New Hampshire will no longer be the freest state in the country — not by a long shot.
In fiscal year (FY) 2000, New Hampshire’s state and local tax burden (excluding motor fuel, severance, alcohol, and tobacco taxes) stood at 7.5% of personal income, not only the best in the country but only seriously approached by Tennessee. Government consumption and subsidies made up only 7.3% of personal income. By the end of FY 2006, with Republicans having controlled the legislature in the interim, those figures had edged up, to 7.9% and 8.1%, respectively. But by the end of FY 2010, government consumption and subsidies made up 9.1% of income, a nearly two-percentage-point increase over a decade, while the tax burden stood at 8.0% of income. State and local debt was at 18.8% of income, compared to 16.7% a decade earlier.
In the mean time, Alabama, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee have all passed New Hampshire for lower taxes. We don’t yet have the local data to measure whether FY 2012 saw a return to public thrift under the new Republican legislature elected in November 2010, but when New Hampshire voters go to the polls Tuesday, they should remember where their state was two years ago.