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Survey: New York, California last in personal freedoms

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FILE: July 9, 2012: Andrea Hebert of New York, protested the proposed soda-ban that New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has suggested, outside City Hall in New York. (REUTERS)

New York and California have for generations of Americans been considered destination spots to express personal freedoms -- one with a city big enough for anybody with a dream to perhaps become a star and the other a state synonymous with the so-called laid-back lifestyle.  

But such attitudes have drastically changed, according to a new study that finds the two states last in individual freedom.

The “Freedom in the 50 States” study published last week by the libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center ranks New York last and California second to last.

The survey is based on fiscal issues such as job prospects and tax rates, regulatory policies that include property rights and personal freedoms such as gun laws.

“When it comes to overall freedom, New York ranks dead last,” the study’s authors said.

They point out that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken away – or at least tried to take away – several personal freedoms, including his failed effort to outlaw the sale of sodas 16 ounces and larger.

“Though the law ran into a judicial buzz saw on the eve of its enactment earlier this month, it demonstrates the attitude city and state legislators have toward their constituents,” the authors noted.

Bloomberg has already imposed a stiff tax on cigarette sales and is a leading advocate for tougher gun laws.

In addition, New Yorkers pay a state income tax of 14 percent.

“Even New Yorkers who don't care about sweet drinks have to deal with the highest state and local tax burden in the country,” the authors wrote.

The result is New Yorkers are voting with their feet, with roughly 1.7 million leaving between 2000 and 2010, though newborns and new immigrants are keeping the state's population steady, according to the study.

“We’re not living in a police state,” White Plains attorney John Murtagh told CBS New York. “But the economics of New York clearly don’t work. And then you see things like Mike Bloomberg and his Big Gulp sodas.”

The top five states with the most freedom are North  Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, New Hampshire and Oklahoma, according to the study from the center, at George Mason University in Virginia.

North Dakota came in first in large part based of its “very low taxes” and government debt, the authors said. “However, its spending is uncharacteristically high.”

The three other lowest ranking states are Rhode Island, Hawaii and New Jersey, in descending order.

The study authors said California's biggest problem is business regulation, though a recent attempt to impose a higher tax rate on the state’s highest earners has become a major complaint among residents.

“The Golden State, with hundreds of miles of picturesque Pacific coastline, nonetheless managed to drive off a net of 1.5 million residents between 2000 and 2010 -- over  4 percent of its 2000 population,” the authors wrote.

They also pointed out Californians' personal income contracted by 0.4 percent a year in the seven years before the Great Recession struck, a record worse than any other state besides Michigan.