Georgia ranks No. 5 in the nation and No. 2 in the Southeast in freedom, according to a new study by a free market think tank.

The North Carolina-based John Locke Foundation’s First in Freedom Index ranked states based on primarily on economic measures such as fiscal freedom and regulatory freedom but also on measures such as educational freedom and health care freedom.

Florida finished first in the nation in total freedom, followed by Arizona, Indiana, South Dakota and Georgia. The least free state is New York, followed by New Jersey, California, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Georgia’s best score was on regulatory freedom, where it finished No. 2 in the nation, indicating it has relatively strong protections for private property and relatively little of what the study considers to be red tape.

Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce President Brian Anderson said he hasn’t seen the John Locke Foundation study but it parallels other studies he has seen that rank Georgia highly on such matters.

“It’s good news,” he said. “It confirms that this state is a good place to do business. The South in general tends to outrank states such as Illinois and New York and California in terms of being a good place to do business.”

But Dalton’s Terry Hill said he was surprised that Georgia ranked so highly.

“There are states that have legalized marijuana and states that have gay marriage, and Georgia doesn’t have any of that,” he said.

Matt Hipps, an assistant professor of political science at Dalton State College, says the study is “a bit deceptive.”

“If you delve a bit deeper into the rankings, what you really see is the survey is giving a lot of weight to a lack of regulation as individual freedom,” he said. “I am not entirely sure that this correlation is an accurate one. For example, we rank highly in regulatory and educational freedom; but those are largely indicators of state involvement in ‘telling’ people what to do. It doesn’t really address the freedom to make some of those choices (i.e., do all people truly have the opportunity to access those regulation-free services in education, health care etc.). Not to sound cynical, but I think that the rankings in this particular study are more about the weighting in the methodology than the actual freedom afforded to individuals in Georgia.”

Georgia ranked No. 4 in the nation in education freedom. Dalton Tea Party organizer Naomi Swanson described that as a “pleasant surprise.”

“It looks like Georgia is among the leaders in homeschooling and school choice,” she said.

Georgia’s worst score was in health care freedom, where it ranked No. 34 in the nation, indicating it has a relatively high number of health insurance mandates and laws and rules restricting health care providers.

But health care freedom counts for only about 10 percent of the rating. Hipps said Georgia and Florida benefit from being good, by the study’s standards, on the things it weights highly and bad on the ones that don’t count as much.

Other than Florida and North Carolina, none of the states bordering Georgia placed in the top half of the nation in total freedom, with North Carolina ranked No. 23, Alabama ranked No. 30, South Carolina No. 32 and Tennessee No. 33.

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