WV state motto says ‘Mountaineers are always free,’ but are they really?

West Virginia

Evan Matthes waves WV state flag to get the fans going in final minutes of WVU’s matchup against Iowa State (Photo: Jamie Green)

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – The West Virginia state motto is “Montani semper liberi” or “Mountaineers are always free,” but just how free are we?

West Virginia is only the 35th most free state according to a study by Cato Institute. The study used fiscal, personal and regulatory categories and more than 230 variables to determine how free each state is.

West Virginia sits only 40th for fiscal freedom and is intertwined heavily with the government when it comes to money. On average, West Virginia residents pay about 6.7% of their income in state taxes and 3% in local taxes. A large percentage of workers are government employed, 16.3%, and the government owns 11.5% of income from GDP in West Virginia.

As far as regulatory freedom, West Virginia ranks 29th. In the study, regulatory freedom includes the liability system, property rights, health insurance and the labor market. In West Virginia, health insurance is highly regulated and occupational freedom is below average because health care workers’ licensure and scope of practice—with the exception of nurses—have a lot of limits. The civil liability system is worse than average, meaning you are unlikely to get a third party to pay for damages to your personal property. West Virginia also relies heavily on mandates, and telecommunication and cable are still heavily filtered and restricted.

West Virginia, Freedom in the 50 States ranking (Cato Institute image)

In past studies, West Virginia has had high personal freedom and lower fiscal, which is still true, but personal freedom has decreased drastically over the past decade. West Virginia ranked 14th for personal freedom. West Virginia used to incarcerate a low rate of people, but that is no longer true. Drug arrests have risen, and the rate of phone calls allowed from prison has dropped since 2015. Educational freedom in West Virginia is also low because private schools and homeschools are heavily regulated.

Despite a drop in personal freedom over the last decade, West Virginia still upholds a high level of personal freedom in these areas:

  • Gun rights have been and still are high in West Virginia.
  • Cannabis laws inproved in West Virginia with the passage of a medical marijuana bill in 2015.
  • Alcohol freedom is above average, despite an added open container law in 2015.
  • Gambling freedom in West Virginia is considered the 3rd best, even though social gambling is illegal.
  • Tabacco freedom is average.
  • Arrests for victimless crimes have been consistantly falling.

The West Virginia flag even points to West Virginia freedom. It says, “State of West Virginia; June 20 1863; Montani semper liberi”—Mountaineers are always free.

West Virginia state flag (Getty image)

You would think that with the motto “Mountaineers are always free”, West Virginia would sit higher on freedom in the 50 states ranking. But then again, according to the results of a trivia game by game company Solitare Bliss, 1 in 3 West Virginians don’t even know that the state motto revolves around freedom. Over 35% of West Virginians think that the state motto is “county roads take me home.”

So what are the freest states if not the home of the always free Mountaineers? New Hampshire tops of the charts with the highest level of freedom for any state. Nevada has the most personal freedom and is #3 overall. Florida has the most fiscal freedom and is #2 overall.

The least free states according to the study are #50 New York which has the least personal freedom, #49 Hawaii which has the least fiscal freedom and #48 California which has the least regulatory freedom.

For the full map and rankings of freedom in the 50 states, click here. To read more about state mottos, click here.

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