The Libertas Institute describes itself as "a free-market think tank advancing the cause of liberty by supporting and defending individual liberty, private property rights and free enterprise." For its index, the institute used 100 metrics, such as gun restrictions, limits on campaign contributions and animal restrictions, among many others, to analyze 50 Utah municipalities.
"Our report contains a treasure trove of data on cities," Josh Daniels, a policy analyst at Libertas Institute, said in a prepared statement. "In two minutes, Utahns can quickly get up to speed on how their city performs on a wide range of issues, relative to other cities. Nothing like this has ever been done, and we're thrilled to provide this service to our fellow Utahns."
To see the institute's report, visit its website, libertasutah.org.
According to the Freest Cities Index, Salt Lake City tied for dead last — meaning it has more limitations — on gun restrictions, along with Cedar City, St. George and Washington. Heber City ranked fifth — least restrictions — behind Highland, South Jordan, Syracuse and West Haven.
On campaign-contribution limits, it was another black eye for the capital. Salt Lake City, which caps mayoral-election donations at $7,500 per person or company, was riding the caboose for most restrictions with Ogden and Taylorsville. Heber City tied for first with 45 other cities.
But when it comes to animal restrictions, Salt Lake City climbed up to second to last, ahead of American Fork. Heber ranked fifth. Woods Cross was first in ranking for freest animals.
But Salt Lakers can take heart. Their city tied with six other municipalities in the category of "beer sales restrictions." In other words, the beer in Salt Lake City is among the freest flowing in Zion.
"City governments throughout the state are in sore need of transparency and accountability," said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute. "We routinely hear from Utahns who are frustrated with their city, yet lack the knowledge or time to investigate the issues that matter. This index provides a huge leap forward in both educating and empowering individuals throughout Utah to make a positive change in their community."
But Luke Garrott, chairman of the Salt Lake City Council, said the Libertas Institute measures only one side of freedom.
"As Libertarians, what they don't get is the side of freedom, called political freedom, where citizens have input on laws and ordinances," Garrott said. "It's about a community reflecting values, like safety, clean air and clean water. You have to reduce individual freedom for the public good."
Daniels disagreed, saying that although it's true that cities pass laws aimed at public safety, municipal governments often create mandates that exist only to facilitate government interests.
"Generally, the public wouldn't agree [with Garrott]," Daniels said in an interview Wednesday. "It's a question of degree, too. There is a better way to strike a balance. That's what the index does. It shows how other cities strike that balance."
It's worth noting that although the capital ranked low on animal restrictions, it was near the top on chickens in residential areas. Chickens in Salt Lake City are free to roam some of the smallest lots in Utah.