Posts Tagged finances

Best of Times, Worst of Times


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . . ”  So begins Charles Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities.  It is set in in the years prior to the French revolution, but actually applies to the recent performance of Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature.

As official Harrisburg prepares for what is shaping up to be another epic budget battle, the big question is: which GOP will show up in 2017?  Will it be the Republican-controlled legislature that last year stood its ground and fought Governor Tom Wolf’s historic tax and spending proposals, or will it be the GOP that this year folded like a cheap suit and approved $1.4 billion in new spending?

The $1.4 billion spending hike might not qualify as the worst of times, but coming on the heels of a successful struggle against the Wolf Administration’s spending demands it did leave a lot of folks puzzled.  After winning the longest budget fight in state history, why turn around and cave in months later? This leaves most observers – and quite a few participants – at a loss when it comes to predicting how the 2017 budget war will unfold.

We are certain of a few things.

The toxic stew of tax increases and new taxes cooked up to pay for this year’s massive spending increase has failed to live up to expectations.  To date, revenue collections for the 2017-2018 fiscal year are running $261.8 million below estimates.  This, coupled with a “structural budget deficit” pegged at over a billion dollars means the new budget will begin with a significant gap between spending and revenue.

We also can be sure that Governor Wolf will again demand massive spending increases and the taxes to pay for that spending.  He used his budget address this year to lecture the General Assembly for its refusal to accede to his spending demands.  Since most of his priorities have not been funded chances are they will be dusted off and included in his new budget proposal.

But should Republicans sit back and wait for the governor to set the agenda?  Leo Knepper of the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, a pro-growth PAC, suggests a different course of action.  “If Republicans in the General Assembly were smart, they would upend a long-standing budget tradition and go on offense,” Knepper wrote in a recent policy brief.  “(They) should ignore tradition and pre-empt the Governor’s budget address with a plan of their own.”  Knepper observed this would “force the governor to play defense rather than the usual offensive position granted to governors.”

The question remains, however, whether or not legislative Republicans – or at least the leaders who actually sit at the negotiating table – want to go on offense.  Will the resolute leaders who fought and won the first budget battle show up to play, or the ones who forfeited this year’s game?

The final certainty is that all this will play out against the backdrop of the rapidly approaching 2018 election for Governor.  For his part, Governor Wolf will want to deliver the goods of higher spending to his largely urban constituency.

It won’t be so simple for Republicans.

With a number of legislators, including leaders who will negotiate the new budget, eyeing a race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, the upcoming budget battle is fraught with peril.  There are pressures for leaders to “be responsible” and give into spending demands.  But with a veto proof Senate majority and a historically large majority in the House, voters are not likely to be either understanding or forgiving if the GOP doesn’t stand firm.

Will it be the “best of times” with legislative Republicans going on offense and standing up to a tax and spend governor, or will it be the “worst of times” with the taxpayers of Penn’s Woods getting stuck with yet another round of tax hikes?  As the budget process begins a new cycle it is impossible to tell which of the GOP’s split personalities will emerge dominant in 2017, but both the pocketbooks of taxpayers and the political fortunes of many politicians will be affected by the outcome.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Sen. Scott Wagner Talks State Spending Cuts


Radio Program Schedule for the week of January 23, 2016 – January 29, 2016

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from PAIndependent.com
  • Lowman Henry has a Newsmaker interview with State Senator Scott Wagner (R-York County) about ways to cut state spending
  • Joe Geiger of the First Nonprofit Foundation has Emily Skopov of No Crayon Left Behind in the Community Benefit Spotlight
  • Beth Anne Mumford of Americans for Prosperity-PA has a Lincoln Radio Journal commentary on National School Choice Week

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Jim Phillips of the Heritage Foundation about implications of the Iran nuclear accord
  • Doug Sachtleben of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on the Iowa Caucuses
  • Eric Boehm and Ken Ward have a Watchdog Radio Report on sky high property taxes in Texas
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA has an American Radio Journal commentary on the latest developments in the Clinton e-mail server scandal

Visit the program websites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

http://www.lincolnradiojournal.com

http://www.americanradiojournal.com

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: State Spending During Budget Impasse


Radio Program Schedule for the week of December 12, 2015 – December 18, 2015

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from PAIndependent.com
  • Lowman Henry has a Newsmaker interview with State Representative Chris Dush co-author of a Report on State Spending During the Budget Impasse
  • Eric Montarti and Frank Gamrat have an Allegheny Institute Report on demise of the proposed severance tax on Marcellus shale drillers
  • Beth Anne Mumford has a guide to dealing with that progressive who comes home for the holidays

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Veronique de Rugy from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University about abolishing the U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Doug Sachtleben of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on the federal budget stalemate
  • Eric Boehm and Matt Kittle have a Watchdog Radio Report on a Wisconsin prosecutor run afoul of campaign finance laws
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA has an American Radio Journal commentary on President Obama’s ISIS speech

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

http://www.lincolnradiojournal.com

http://www.americanradiojournal.com

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Harrisburg, We Have a Spending Problem


Pennsylvania state government has a structural budget deficit of $1.2 billion dollars.  This somewhat mystical figure is agreed upon by just about everyone.  Given this rare point of agreement, why then is the ongoing budget impasse focused on spending increases rather than spending cuts?

When the working families of Penn’s Woods sit down to pay their monthly bills and income is less than expenses then the family cuts back on spending.  That is because ordinary people can’t just walk into the boss’s office and say “I don’t have enough money to pay my bills so you will pay me more next month.”  And certainly, faced with a deficit, working families – and even most businesses – don’t go out and spend more.

But, that is exactly what Governor Wolf is proposing.  He wants a $4.7 billion increase in state taxes.  If you accept that there is a $1.2 billion structural deficit, then he also wants to increase spending by $3.5 billion.  It is an unrealistic proposal and the reason why the state budget impasse has dragged on for five months.

The governor, however, has won on this front: Republican counter-proposals have focused not on spending cuts, but on increasing spending by less.  Given everyone has bought into the structural deficit number the goal should be to reduce spending to bring actual income and expenditures into balance.  That is what happens in the real world.

Government, however, does not live in the real world.  At no point has a budget been put forward that would even slow the growth of state government let alone cut spending.  The battle has been all about how much bigger state government will become, not about living within our means.

Driving this irrational approach to budgeting is spending on K-12 public education.  The biggest lie since “if you like your health insurance you can keep your health insurance” is that Governor Tom Corbett took a meat axe to education spending.  A cabal of Democratic politicians, labor unions and their media apologists perpetrated that lie during last year’s gubernatorial campaign even though actual spend numbers prove state tax dollars spent on public education increased to record levels under the former governor.

Governor Wolf has never shifted out of campaign mode, and in an effort to repay the unions who financially backed his campaign has made historic increases in education spending a key demand.  Education is a motherhood and apple pie issue.  After all, who doesn’t want our children to have the best education possible?  We all do.  The rub is little of the increases in spending actually benefit children, going instead to pay for bloated administrative bureaucracies and skyrocketing pension expenses.

To their credit, legislative Republicans are insisting on structural reforms to the state’s pension system before agreeing to any spending increase.  But, they have accepted without as much as a whimper the governor’s premise that spending must go up.  Wolf is already crowing that he has gotten Republicans to agree to a “historic” (meaning massively large) increase in state spending on education.

Yet even today, as the budget that should have been done before Independence Day fireworks remains unresolved as we shop for Thanksgiving dinner, not one single party to the budget debate has put on the table any serious menu of potential spending cuts.  Even the GOP’s on-time, no tax hike budget which the governor vetoed included significant spending hikes.  No effort was made to cut spending to match projected income.

There is an old saying in sports that you can’t win by simply playing defense.  That is what has happened as the budget game goes into triple overtime.  At no point has there been an offense designed to cut spending, just defense over spending increases.  So the taxpayers of Pennsylvania have already lost the game, the only hope now is that the final score is not too lopsided.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

 

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: PA Budget Impasse Update


Radio Program Schedule for the week of August 29, 2015 – September 4, 2015

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from PAIndependent.com
  • David Taylor of the PA Manufacturers Association is joined for a Capitol Watch discussion on the latest developments in the state budget crisis by Neal Lesher from the National Federation of Independent Business-PA and by Nathan Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation
  • Lowman Henry has a Town Hall Commentary on the rise of Donald Trump

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Jim Phillips of the Heritage Foundation about the proposed nuclear deal with Iran
  • Doug Sachtleben of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on style over substance in the presidential campaign
  • Eric Boehm gets details from Jonathan Wood of the Pacific Legal Center on the EPA gone rogue on this week’s Watchdog Radio Report
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA has an American Radio Journal commentary on the suddenly competitive race for the Democratic Presidential nomination

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

http://www.lincolnradiojournal.com

http://www.americanradiojournal.com

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: PA Budget Update


Radio Program Schedule for the week of July 18, 2015 – July 24, 2015

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from PAIndependent.com
  • Kevin Shivers from the National Federation of Independent Business-PA and Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation are joined by State Representative Seth Grove (R-York) for a Capitol Watch update on the budget stalemate
  • Lowman Henry has a Town Hall Commentary on why what works in Washington doesn’t work in Harrisburg

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Keith Naughton of the Daily Caller about the U.S. normalizing relations with Cuba
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on the record of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
  • Eric Boehm and Evan Grossman have a Watchdog Radio Report on the American Federation of Teachers endorsement of Hillary Clinton
  • Colin Hanna has an American Radio Journal commentary on the conflict between same sex marriage rights and religious rights

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

http://www.lincolnradiojournal.com

http://www.americanradiojournal.com

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Tom Wolf…Promise V Performance


Radio Program Schedule for the week of May 23, 2015 – May 29, 2015

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • David Taylor hosts a Capitol Watch roundtable discussion on Governor Tom Wolf: campaign promise vs. performance in office with Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation and Neal Lesher from the PA Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business
  • Lowman Henry has a Town Hall Commentary on the state’s business leaders rejecting Governor Wolf’s tax plans

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Stanley Renshon of the Center for Immigration Studies about stopping President Obama’s executive orders on illegal immigration
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on key 2016 U.S. Senate races
  • Eric Boehm and Mark Lagerkvist have a Watchdog Radio Report on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s lavish spending at NFL football games
  • Dr. Paul Kengor from the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College has an American Radio Journal Commentary on seven brothers from one family who fought in World War II

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

http://www.lincolnradiojournal.com

http://www.americanradiojournal.com

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PA Business Leaders Reject Wolf Tax Plans


The Governor of Pennsylvania decided to use his perceived electoral mandate to take on one of the biggest issues that has confronted and confounded the commonwealth for decades: property tax reform.  So he advanced a plan that would raise sales and personal income taxes in exchange for a cut in property taxes.

Sound familiar?  The year was 1989 and the Governor was Robert P. Casey whose tax reform plan was put on a statewide ballot referendum and was soundly defeated by voters.  Fast forward to 2015 and Governor Tom Wolf has placed on the table a property tax reform plan that strongly resembles the doomed Casey proposal. Except the Wolf plan doesn’t even include the dollar for dollar reductions required of the Casey effort.

As despised as property taxes are, and polling consistently finds the levy to be the most disliked, finding an acceptable alternative remains elusive.  The Wolf plan appears to have little support in the General Assembly; in fact House Republicans have passed their own proposal.  But it too fails to totally eliminate school property taxes leaving the door open for millage rates to simply increase again over time.

An indication of how unpopular the Wolf tax reform plan is can be found in the recent Keystone Business Climate Survey of business owners and chief executive officers conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research.  Nearly 70% of the business leaders said the Wolf property tax shift would result in only a temporary drop in property taxes which would then go back up.  Another 14% predicted his plan would actually lead to property tax increases; only 15% expect to see property taxes decline under the Wolf proposal.

Not only does the poll demonstrate disapproval of the Wolf property tax plan, but the survey found the biggest six month decline in business climate optimism since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008.  In fact, in the 20 year history of the poll only during that recession and in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks has business climate optimism dropped so far so fast.

Last September, for the first time since George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, more business leaders said the state’s economic climate had improved that felt it had gotten worse.  The indicator rose into positive territory by just 1%, but it capped a steady move in a positive direction.  All of that has changed.  The number of owners/CEOs saying business conditions have improved over the past six months has fallen to just 13%, while the number saying business conditions have gotten worse has nearly doubled since last Fall.

The only variable to change during that six month period was the election of Governor Tom Wolf.  Governor Tom Corbett left office with a 52% job approval rating.  Governor Tom Wolf’s first job approval test yielded just 15% approval with 69% of the state’s business leaders saying they disapprove of the job he is doing.

Driving the dour mood among the people who actually run businesses – big and small – is a general disapproval of Governor Wolf’s budget proposals.  A total of 78% disapprove of his proposed budget.  Overall 80% say the governor’s proposed state budget will harm the state’s business climate.  As a side note, Pennsylvania’s high tax rates and stringent regulatory policies are viewed by the owners/CEOs as the biggest impediments to conducting business in the commonwealth.  They now fear that situation is about to get even worse so the state’s job creators are bracing themselves for higher taxes.

Overall the survey results represent a sound and complete repudiation of Governor Tom Wolf’s first proposed state budget along with the major revisions and tax hikes contained within the proposal.  Like Governor Casey before him, his ambitious tax reform plans are deeply unpopular and may be destined for the same fate.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolnisntitute.org)

Permission to reprint is granted provide author and affiliation are cited.

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Wolf Education Funding Cuts


Radio Program Schedule for the week of May 2, 2015 – May 8, 2015

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from PAIndependent.com
  • Lowman Henry has a Newsmaker interview with Dr. James Hanek of the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School about funding threats to the state’s cyber public charter schools
  • Frank Gamrat and Eric Montarti have an Allegheny Institute Report on results of a PennDOT study on public transit consolidation in southwestern Pennsylvania
  • Beth Anne Mumford of Americans for Prosperity-PA has a Lincoln Radio Journal commentary on the negative impact of a Marcellus Shale extraction tax

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Liya Palagahvili of the Frasier Institute about the effect of taxes and regulation on new business formations in the United States
  • Andy Roth of the Club for growth has the Real Story on the latest maneuvering over the transportation bill
  • Eric Boehm talks with Matt Miller of the Institute for Justice for a Watchdog Radio Report on an Arkansas dentist who may lose his license for charging patients too little
  • Dr. Paul Kengor from the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College has an American Radio Journal commentary on communism in Hollywood in the 1940s

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

http://www.lincolnradiojournal.com

http://www.americanradiojournal.com

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Business Climate Optimism Evaporates


Wolf Budget Proposals Deeply Unpopular Among Business Owners/CEOs

After nudging into positive territory last October for the first time since 2004, the outlook of Pennsylvania business owners and Chief Executive Officers has turned sharply negative in the wake of Governor Tom Wolf’s budget proposals. Every component of the governor’s proposed budget “reforms” received a sharply negative response from the state’s job creators in the Lincoln Institute’s Spring 2015 Keystone Business Climate Survey.

Four years of business friendly policies implemented by the administration of former Governor Tom Corbett created a positive outlook from business owners and CEOs for the first time since George W. Bush was still in his first term.  Albeit slight, in October 2014, 19% of the business leaders said the state’s economic conditions had improved during the preceding six months, while 18% felt they had gotten worse.  Six months later, the picture has taken a dramatic turn for the worse.  The Spring 2015 survey found 33% of the owners/CEOs responding that business conditions have gotten worse over the past six months, only 13% say business conditions have improved. Pessimism for the future has deepened, as 44% say they expect the state’s business climate to get worse over the coming six months while just 12% expect the Pennsylvania economy to improve.

Driving the dour mood among the people who actually run businesses – big and small – is a general disapproval of Governor Tom Wolfe’s budget proposals.  A total of 78% disapprove of his proposed budget, with 60% saying they strongly disapprove.  Just 17% gave the governor a thumbs-up; and only 6% strongly approve of his proposed fiscal policies.  Overall, 80% say the governor’s proposed state budget will harm Pennsylvania’s business climate – 56% say it will do significant harm – while 14% think his proposals will improve the state’s business climate.

The state’s job creators are bracing themselves for higher taxes.  As a side note, Pennsylvania’s high tax rates and stringent regulatory policies are viewed by the owners/CEOs as the biggest impediments to conducting business in Pennsylvania.  They now fear that situation is about to get worse.  Seventy-two percent say the proposed Wolf Administration changes to the state’s tax structure will result in them paying higher taxes, 36% say they expect to pay significantly higher taxes.  Only 3% expect their taxes to drop if the Wolf agenda is enacted, while 13% say they expect to pay about the same amount in taxes.  Another 11% don’t yet have enough information to render an opinion.

Cutting the state’s onerous Corporate Net Income Tax (CNI) and eliminating the double taxation brought on by the Capital Stock & Franchise Tax have long been goals of business advocacy groups in Pennsylvania, but the Wolf Administration plan of coupling those cuts with other tax law changes creating a net increase in business taxes has business owners/CEOs opposing the entire proposed package.  Sixty-two percent disapprove of the governor’s proposed business tax plan, 25% voiced approval.

And that was the high point for the governor. Other proposed changes drew even stronger opposition from the business community.  His proposal to increase the state’s sales tax from 6% to 6.6% and to apply the sales tax to a wide array of products and services not currently subject to sales tax drew opposition from three-quarters (75%) of the respondents with 61% expressing strong disapproval.  Twenty-four percent agreed with the proposed sale tax hike.

Raise the personal income tax rate from 3.07% to 3.7%?  Eighty-three percent of respondents to theSpring 2015 Keystone Business Climate Survey said they disapprove, 70% voiced strong disapproval.  Sixteen percent approve of hiking the personal income tax (PIT) rate.

There is also deep suspicion over the governor’s plan to have the state pay a larger share of public education costs (with revenue from a higher and broader sales tax) and allow local school districts to decrease property taxes.  Seventy percent say any drop in property taxes will be temporary, and then property taxes will rise again.  Less than 2% say they expect a significant property tax cut as a result of that proposal while 13% say they might realize a slight reduction in property taxes.  That is offset by the 14% who expect to pay higher property taxes.

Respondents to the survey also now oppose adding a tax on companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale region.  In the Fall 2014 Keystone Business Climate Survey 51% approved of an extraction tax.  Support for that tax dropped to 45% in the current poll, while opposition rose from 44% last Fall to 50% in the current survey.

General Trends

Overall, Governor Tom Wolf has proposed a state budget that would add $4.6 billion in increased spending to the state’s current $29.4 billion budget.  By a wide margin, business owners/CEOs say that is too much.  Eighty-four percent say his spending increases are too high; 11% think they are about right; and just 1% think they are too low.

Government regulation is cited as the biggest barrier to job creation by 64% of the business owners/CEOs participating in the Lincoln Institute’s survey.  That factor is driving the negative mood of job creators in that two of the most aggressive regulators in recent state history now serve as Governor Tom Wolf’s chief of staff and top policy advisor.  Thirty-six percent cited corporate taxation as a barrier to job creation while, 43% blame national economic factors.

Employment levels remained stable over the past six months.  Eighteen percent of the owners/CEOs said they employ fewer people, while 16% said they have increased employment.  Sixty-three percent reported employing the same number of individuals.  Looking ahead six months, 18% say they plan to add employees, 13% expect to employ fewer people.  Sales decreased at 32% of the companies participating in the survey, but increased at 28%.  Looking ahead 35% forecast rising sales, 18% are projecting a drop.

Job Approval Ratings

Governor Tom Wolf received a strongly negative job approval rating in his first appearance in theKeystone Business Climate Survey.  Sixty-nine percent disapprove of the job the governor is doing, while 14% approve.  Only President Barack Obama fared worse among the business owners/CEOs, 87% disapprove of the Presidential job performance with 10% voicing approval.

U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. likewise finds himself deep in negative territory as 64% disapprove of his performance in office while 14% approve.  U.S. Senator Patrick J. Toomey fared better, with a 51% job approval rating against a 23% negative rating.  Toomey was the only federal official in positive territory. The owners/CEOs also approve of the job being done by new Federal Reserve Board Chairman Janet Yellen, 41% approve to 26% disapprove.  And U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew drew an 8% approve against 44% who disapprove of the job he is doing.

The legal problems and controversies surrounding Attorney General Kathleen Kane have taken a toll on her standing among the state’s business leaders.  Her negative rating jumped from 49% in the Fall 2014 survey to 62% in the current poll.  Conversely, her positive rating dropped from 16% six months ago to just 7% in the current survey.  Even state Auditor General Eugene Depasquale, the only statewide constitutional officer to avoid scandal, finds himself in negative territory – as 21% disapprove of his performance in office, while 13% approve.  But, 65% offered no opinion.

Legislative bodies at both the state and federal levels continue to be unpopular.  Just 11% approve of the job being done by the U.S. Senate, 79% disapprove.  The U.S. House of Representatives earned a 20% approval rating with 71% voicing disapproval.  The Pennsylvania Senate is viewed positively by 26% of respondents, and 56% disapprove.  The Pennsylvania House of Representatives fared best among the legislative chambers, with a 28% approval rating against a 55% disapproval number.

Methodology

The Spring 2015 Pennsylvania Business Climate Survey was conducted electronically by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. between April 1 and April 28, 2015.  A total of 351 responses were collected.  Of those, 83% were from the owner of a business, 14% from the CEO/COO/CFO.  Less than 2% were from a state or local manager of a business.

Geographically, 27% of the respondents were from southeastern Pennsylvania; 18% from southwestern Pennsylvania; 19% from south central Pennsylvania; 11% from northeastern Pennsylvania; 9% from the northwestern portion of the state; 9% from north central Pennsylvania; 4% from Altoona/Johnstown and 4% from the Lehigh Valley.

Complete numeric results of the poll are available at www.lincolninstitute.org.

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