Colorado has the most rules on the books in Rocky Mountain region

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made cutting red tape a priority during his eight years in office, but it appears plenty of regulations were left behind, according to a new study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Researchers James Broughel and Kofi Ampaabeng used text analysis and machine learning algorithms to count the number of words in state administrative codes as well as specific restrictions, indicated by words such as shall, must, may not, prohibited, and required.

Nationally, the administrative code in a U.S. state averages 9.2 million words and in the Rocky Mountain region, the state average is closer to 6.1 million words. In Colorado, the administrative code in 2020 runs 12.2 million words, or double the regional average.

“Population could be one factor for these differences. Smaller states may be an easier target for federal regulation, while more populous states may produce more of their own regulations,” said Broughel in an email. “Future research will help disentangle the various layers of rules and their corresponding effects.”

In Colorado, there were 154,964 restrictive terms or commands contained in the regulatory language, compared to 38,961 in Idaho, the least regulated U.S. state. The average number of restrictions for U.S. states was 134,788.

But that isn’t necessarily a fair comparison. More populated states are likely to have more industries and activities to regulate. California has 395,408 restrictions and New York has 296,296.

Looking at restrictions on a per capita basis, Wyoming residents bear the heaviest regulatory burden in the region, followed by Montana and Utah. On that measure, Colorado is the second-least regulated state in the region after Idaho.

And as heavy as Colorado’s overall regulatory burden might look compared to other states in the region, it pales compared to the nearly 1.1 million federal restrictions.

“It is quite possible that federal regulations have a larger impact on these state economies than do the states’ own regulatory restrictions,” Broughel said in his report.

The study also dove into the regulatory burden by industry, judging by the number of restrictions devoted to them in the administrative code. In Colorado, health care services face the most rules at around 12,500, followed by mining at nearly 12,000 restrictions and oil and gas and waste management at around 11,000 restrictions each.

Colorado takes a very light regulatory hand when it comes to real estate, even though real estate contributes more to state GDP than any other industry, the study found. Crop production and social assistance are other areas where the state takes a comparatively lighter touch.

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