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Tennessee boasts the best fiscal stability of any state, according to a new ranking by U.S. News & World Report.

But as one of worst 10 states for crime and health care, Tennessee's overall ranking in the magazine's new list of the best states put the Volunteer State in the bottom third of all states.

Top 5 best states in 2019

U.S. News and World Report ranked the states in its annual report based upon their economies, education, health care, infrastructure, environment, fiscal stability, crime and opportunity. The best states this year are:

1. Washington

2. New Hampshire

3. Minnesota

4. Utah

5. Vermont

Source: U.S. News & World Report ranking of Best States. Georgia ranked No. 17; Tennessee ranked No. 30, and Alabama ranked 49th ahead of only Louisiana, which ranked the worst.

In its annual ranking of the Best States released Tuesday, U.S. News ranks the state of Washington as the best state based upon its relatively strong economy, educational and health achievements and other measures of quality of life.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, one of 21 announced candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president, championed the rating for his home state.

"This confirms what we in Washington have always known, that our state is great for businesses, workers, and investments, coupled with natural beauty and innovative, creative people," Inslee said.

Overall, Tennessee ranked No. 30 and Alabama ranked 49th in the new list of Best States. Georgia ranked No. 17.

As a state with disproportionately more smokers and obesity, Tennessee ranked as the seventh worst state for health care outcomes. In Tennessee, 22.6 percent of adults are smokers, compared with 17.1 percent nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Tennessee also had the seventh highest crime rate among the states, hurting its overall ranking.

Despite its unfavorable rank in some of the magazine's measures, Tennessee was judged the best for the fiscal health and stability of its state government.

A study last year by George Mason University found that Tennessee's revenues exceeded expenses in the previous year by 7 percent and the state had between 3.03 and 4.17 times the cash needed to cover short-term obligations and one of the best funded pension systems, with an total unfunded pension liabilities of about $50 billion, or 17 percent of state personal income.

Unlike most states, Tennessee also doesn't bond finance most of its road and highway projects but operates on a pay-as-you-go basis with its state fuel tax.

Brian Straessle, director of external affairs of the Sycamore Institute, says the study underscores Tennessee's conservative approach to spending and debt.

"The state does have an excellent credit rating and our long-term pension liabilities are almost fully funded," Straessle said. "The rainy day fund in Tennessee also has grown significantly since the Great Recession but the purchasing power of that fund hadn't necessarily kept pace so one of the things that the governor and the legislature did was to make a large ($225 million) contribution to the rainy day fund this year to improve its standing."

To prepare its list of best states, U.S. News evaluated all 50 states across a range of more than 70 criteria, including education, health care, infrastructure and the economy. U.S. News also conducted a survey asking more than 23,000 people across the country to provide levels of satisfaction with government services and to prioritize where state governments should focus resources.

"As people are increasingly concerned about income disparities, rising health care costs, gaps in education and crumbling infrastructure, it's more important than ever to focus on the day-to-day policies that affect people where they live their lives," Eric Gertler, executive chairman at U.S. News, said in a report on the new list. " ... the rankings fills the gap in local reporting for the benefit of residents, business leaders, decision-makers and government officials."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

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