Richer or poorer? American West has brighter economic horizon

Richer or poorer? American West has brighter economic horizon

Salt Lake City and New York City are more than 2,173 miles apart, but they are polar extremes for economic growth, according to a national study released Wednesday.

For the eighth consecutive year, Utah’s economic outlook was rated No. 1 by the American Legislative Exchange Council. New York remained mired in last place, also for the eighth straight year.

In between, the stock of several states rose and fell, based on taxing, spending and regulatory practices tracked by ALEC, a free-market policy center.

“Things are moving quickly in the states, compared to Washington, D.C.,” said Jonathan Williams, co-author of the annual “Rich States, Poor States” report.

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While Utah, North Dakota, and Indiana solidified their positions atop the field, Kentucky (30th) was the biggest gainer, jumping nine spots due largely to workers’ compensation reforms.

North Carolina climbed into fourth place by enacting tax cuts. In all, 14 states reduced taxes last year. Williams predicted that 20 states could do so this year.

The biggest loser in the ALEC standings was Michigan, which raised its minimum wage in 2014. South Dakota fell to ninth place because it hiked the state’s minimum wage. Pennsylvania dropped to 41st when it failed to enact pension reforms.

Virginia slipped to 12th, thanks to a record tax increase for transportation. This marked the second consecutive year that Virginia finished out of ALEC’s top 10.

“Virginia had a disastrous governor,” report co-author Steven Moore said of Republican Bob McDonnell. Beyond the governor’s federal conviction on ethics charges, “the gas tax was a killer,” he said. “There was no reason for it.”

Moore predicted Maryland could improve its economic outlook and compete with Virginia if newly elected GOP Gov. Larry Hogan succeeds in rolling back taxes in his historically Democratic state.

“The vast majority [of states] are moving in the right direction,” said Moore. He credited Wisconsin’s latest rise to its adoption of a right-to-work law.

Except for Oregon (45th), California (44th) and Montana (43rd), the bottom 10 states lay entirely east of the Mississippi River. Seven of the top 10 lay to the west.

Texas — one of six states with no personal income tax — led the nation in net domestic migration and job growth from 2003-2013.

Looking forward, however, ALEC ranked the Lone Star State out of the top 10. With a hefty property tax load that scored 38th out of 50 states and its sales tax at 28th, Texas placed just behind No. 10 Nevada.

Read more by Kenric Ward at

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent and writes for the Texas Bureau of Formerly a reporter and editor at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Kenric has won dozens of state and national news awards for investigative articles. His most recent book is “Saints in Babylon: Mormons and Las Vegas.”


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