Beacon Center of Tennessee: 2020 City Freedom Index
BY RON SHULTIS
Every year, thousands of people across the United States move to Tennessee. While their reasons may vary, many choose to live here due to state-level policies such as the lack of a state income tax, low taxes per capita, and low levels of debt. These policies are well known and their benefits well documented. While the state you live in has a large impact on your life, so does the city you live in. Sadly, few individuals realize the full extent of how their city regulates their life. In 2020, the Beacon Center decided to change that, working to create Tennessee’s first-ever City Freedom Index.
Our index ranks Tennessee’s 30 most populous cities on 25 different metrics comprised of over 70 different policies and spanning four broad categories:
- Free enterprise: How much does the city inhibit different types of businesses from thriving whether through regulation, fees, or direct competition with the private sector?
- Property rights: What costs or prohibitions does the city place on citizens’ use of their own property?
- Individual liberty: What restrictions or requirements do cities place on constitutionally protected activities?
- Cost of government: How much in taxes does the city collect from its residents and what is its overall fiscal health?
With its three Grand Divisions, Tennessee is an extremely diverse state, and the policies of its cities are no less so. Cities in West Tennessee tend to have higher sales taxes, while East Tennessee’s Farragut has no property tax at all. Many will be shocked to learn that many cities are in the wedding business, running southern plantations as event centers, whereas a few cities ban homebrewing, pool halls, and fortune-tellers. And in a weird irony during the COVID-19 pandemic, some cities restrict wearing masks outside of Halloween, leaving residents with a choice: follow city ordinances or comply with health guidelines.
As a composite index, cities were not ranked whether they were “free” or “not-free” but how they compared relative to each other. For a full explanation of our methodology, click here. Finally, as an index ranking cities, policies controlled by counties were not included. For example, the rankings on property tax rates would likely change if city and county rates were combined. However, to better isolate and highlight the full impact of city leaders’ authority and decision making, only city-level data was used.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.” We believe by shining a light on the various policies of Tennessee’s cities, citizens and policymakers will finally have the knowledge needed to vote with their feet, or better yet, enact real change and make their city more prosperous and free. You can view the full rankings and a description of each city by clicking here.