Posts Tagged jobs

Leave Us Alone


It was a simple, yet revealing summary of the problems plaguing Pennsylvania’s businesses.  “Please stop trying to ‘fix’ it,” the business owner begged. “Leave us alone.”  That plaintive plea came as three new studies show our state’s economy is sagging under the weight of new regulations, higher taxes, and unsustainable government spending.

Recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-2009 has been one of the slowest in history.  But, some states have bounced back faster and farther than others.  Pennsylvania is not one of those states.  The Fall 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research found half of the business owners/chief executive officers surveyed saying the state’s business climate has gotten worse over the past six months, and only five percent reporting improving business conditions.

Like other states the people who actually run businesses reported a dramatic deterioration in economic conditions in Pennsylvania during the Great Recession. Optimism returned briefly during the Corbett Administration, but tanked less than three months into Governor Tom Wolf’s tenure.

Governor Wolf began his administration pushing for historic increases in both state spending and in taxes.  The Republican-controlled legislature successfully derailed that effort last year, but then caved into $1.4 billion in higher spending this year – earning the disapproval of 86% of the owners/CEOs.  All of this creates a climate of uncertainty leaving one owner to comment: “We expect another shoe to drop making it difficult to operate in Pennsylvania.”

The biggest shoe that hasn’t dropped is who will pay to bail out Pennsylvania’s massively underfunded public pension system.  Business owners fear a significant portion of that burden will fall upon them.  And the problem is, to use a currently popular word, huge.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) recently released a study of state pension systems entitled Unaccountable and Unaffordable.  It pegged Pennsylvania’s unfunded pension liability at nearly $212 billion dollars.  The commonwealth has amassed the 44th largest unfunded pension liability among the fifty states.

Compounding the problem is Pennsylvania has little room in which to maneuver in finding new revenue streams (taxes) to fund the public pension system.  The Tax Foundation’s State Business and Tax Climate Index found we have the 24th highest state tax burden in the nation.  We already have the most damaging taxes on the books: the Personal Net Income tax, Corporate Net Income tax, and a broad-based state sales tax.  Already suffering from a poor tax climate, any move to expand, increase or create new taxes would further erode our competitiveness.

These factors weigh heavily on the minds of business owners/CEO as they consider locating or expanding in Pennsylvania.  Forty percent said Governor Wolf’s proposed tax hikes have caused them to not expand their businesses.  That factor was second only to the explosion of new federal regulations in impeding business growth.

Why should non-business owners care about all of this?  Business relocation into Pennsylvania and the expansion of existing businesses will result in the creation of new jobs.  Penn’s Woods has lagged the national average in job creation in large measure due to state taxes and regulations.  The 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey found 21% of the responding businesses reduced their employee compliment over the past six months while only 11% added employees.

Thus Pennsylvania continues on a downward spiral.  And there is little optimism among those on the front lines of business activity in the state for improvement at any point in the near future.  Uncertainty is Kryptonite to business development.  At the state level uncertainty abounds.  Governor Wolf continues to press for increased spending and higher taxes at a time when the commonwealth already faces a structural budget deficit.  The recent record of legislative Republicans has shaken confidence in their ability to either deal with cost drivers like the pension crisis or to successfully oppose future tax hikes.

The bottom line is Pennsylvania’s business climate will not improve, and significant job creation resume, until and unless state government gets spending under control, addresses the looming pension crisis, cuts onerous regulations and provides some measure of tax relief to businesses ready to expand but which are being held back by the heavy hand of government.

(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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Stagnation: PA business climate remains sluggish


Pennsylvania’s business climate remains sluggish as the commonwealth continues to struggle in the aftermath of the Great Recession.  Business conditions, employment levels and sales have all backslid over the past six months with owners blaming high taxes, government regulation and a lack of skilled workers for the malaise.

The Fall 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research found half of the business owners and chief executive officers survey saying the state’s economy has gotten worse over the past six months, only five percent felt Pennsylvania’s business climate had improved during that time frame.

Comparatively, one year ago 42% felt the business climate had gotten worse, while six percent at that time said it had improved.  There is little optimism that business conditions will improve soon. Forty-four percent say they expect the state’s economy to continue getting worse over the upcoming six months, five percent expect to see an improvement in the business climate.

Along with that pessimistic overall prognosis twice as many businesses report having reduced their workforce as say they have added jobs.  The majority of businesses – 66% – reported that employment levels remained about the same over the past six months.  But, 21% said they have reduced their employee compliment while 11% added employees.  The picture improves slightly as the owners/CEOs look ahead to the coming six months.  Sixteen percent say they plan to add employees, 12% expect to reduce their workforce.

Sales have also taken a hit over the past six months.  Thirty-nine percent said their sales remained about the same from March thru September.  But, 39% reported decreased sales and were off-set by only 21% having reported sales increases.  Looking forward, 51% expect sales to remain stable.  Twenty-Four percent forecast an increase in sales, 23% are braced for a sales decrease.

Factors Impacting Business Growth

Among the factors cited by businesses for why they considered expanding their businesses over the past two years, but decided against expansion taxes and regulation topped the list of barriers.  Onerous federal regulations were cited by 41% of the businesses that considered, but rejected, expansion plans.  Coming in a close second was Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed tax increases cited by 40% as a reason why they did not expand. Pennsylvania’s tax structure was listed by 29% as having frustrated expansion plans.

Thirty-six percent cited onerous state regulations as a barrier to expansion, while another 35% cited the lack of a skilled work force.  Nearly half of the businesses surveyed said they currently have open positions for which they have been unable to find qualified applicants. Forty-two percent say they have been unable to fill one to five jobs; 2% have six to ten open positions; one percent has more than ten jobs unfilled due to lack of qualified applicants.

State Issues

Pennsylvania fiscal condition continues to be of concern to the business owners and CEOs participating in the Fall 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey.  Eighty-five percent disagreed – 70% strongly so – with Republicans in the General Assembly having agreed to a $1.4 billion spending increase and then raising taxes to enact the current year’s state budget.

Looking ahead to what will likely be another epic budget battle next summer, 92% say the General Assembly must address cost drivers such as pension reform before considering an increase in taxes.  In fact, 34% said the state’s massive unfunded pension liability has caused them to not consider expanding in Pennsylvania.

Among pension reforms being considered is moving state employees from the current defined benefit pension system to a defined contribution plan. Thirty-nine percent of the businesses surveyed said they offer employees a company administered defined contribution plan to which the company contributes.  Only 3% of the private businesses surveyed continue to offer a defined pension plan.  Another 40% offer employees no retirement plans at all.

Earlier this year the General Assembly did pass, and Governor Tom Wolf signed into law, some modest changes to the state’s century-old liquor laws. Business owners/CEOs said those reforms did not go far enough.  Fifty-two percent would like for the state to completely privatize both retail sales and wholesale distribution of alcoholic products.  Another 26% would like to see just retail sales privatized.  Twelve percent said the recent changes were sufficient.

Pennsylvania has an abundant supply of natural gas, but additional pipelines are needed to get that gas to market.  Eight-nine percent agree – 60% strongly agree – that this resource should be developed and more pipelines built.  Nine percent disagree.  Twenty-five percent said easier access to natural gas would be a benefit to their business with an additional 14% saying it would be a major benefit.  Thirty percent said they do not utilize natural gas in their business.

Over the past nine years since the passage of Act 44 the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has diverted $5.2 billion to PennDOT to help pay for state highways and public transit.  This has resulted in annual fare increases for turnpike travelers.  Sixty-three percent of those participating in the Fall 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey said this should end and fare revenue be used only to maintain and improve the turnpike.  Twenty-nine percent felt the sharing of revenue should continue.

Job Approval Ratings

President Barack Obama and Governor Tom Wolf continue to suffer from significantly low job approval ratings among the business community.  Eighty-four percent have a negative view of the President’s job performance; 86% disapprove of the job being done by Governor Wolf.

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, who faces re-election in November, received a 50% job approval rating against 23% with a negative view of his job performance.  The job being done by U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. is viewed negatively by 56% of the business owners/CEOs, 18% give him positive marks.  Likewise, 54% say Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is doing a poor job, 15% approve.

Pennsylvania has three statewide constitutional or “row” offices. Two are serving by appointment, their elected predecessors having resigned after being convicted of crimes.  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is the surviving official elected in 2012 still in office.  Seventy-three percent have no opinion of his job performance, with 14% saying he is doing a good job and 14% having a negative opinion of his job performance.  Likewise about two-thirds offered no opinions on state Treasurer Tim Reese or Attorney General Bruce Beemer.  Of those who did, 18% give Beemer a negative rating, 6% a positive one while 15% hold a negative view of Reese, 5% a positive view.

As has been the case throughout the Keystone Business Climate Survey’s 22-year history the owners and chief executive officers hold the federal congress and the state legislature in very low regard.  Just 8% approve of the job being done by the United States Senate, 11% approve of the job being done by the U.S. House of Representatives.  Seventeen percent approve of the job performance of the Pennsylvania Senate; 19% approve of the job being done by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Finally, the Lincoln Institute asked participants in the survey who they support for President of the United States and United State Senator from Pennsylvania in the upcoming November General Election.  Seventy-three percent said they will vote for the Republican nominee Donald Trump, 12% support the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and 6% say they will vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson.   Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Pat Toomey has the support of 81% of the owners/CEOs, Democratic challenger Katie McGinty has 12% support.

Methodology

The Fall 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey was conducted electronically by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. from September 13 through October 5, 2016.  A total of 370 businesses responded to the survey invitation.  Of those 81% are the owner of the business, 14% are the CEO/COO/CFO and one percent a business manager.

Twenty-five percent of the responses came from the Philadelphia/southeastern part of the state; 18% from Pittsburgh/southwestern Pennsylvania; 16% from south/central Pennsylvania; 13% from northwestern Pennsylvania; 11% from northeastern Pennsylvania; 10% from north-central Pennsylvania; 4% from the Lehigh Valley and 3% from the Altoona/Johnstown area.

Complete numeric results are posted on-line at http://www.lincolninstitute.org

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Crash and Burn: Wolf Job Approval Rating Hits Record Low


There is an old Irish proverb that holds “There’s nothing so bad it couldn’t be worse.”  That applies to Governor Tom Wolf’s job approval rating with the owners and chief executive officers of businesses throughout Penn’s Woods.  It has now dropped to the lowest point ever recorded by a governor in the 21-year history of the Keystone Business Climate Survey. The poll is compiled each Spring and Fall by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research.

Eighty-nine percent of the business leaders surveyed said they have a negative view of Governor Tom Wolf’s job performance; just 5% give him a positive rating.  That eclipses the previous record disapproval recorded by Governor Ed Rendell in the Fall of 2009 when 86% offered a negative assessment of his job performance.  It is also a 20% drop in approval for Governor Wolf from one year ago.  In fact, the governor’s job approval rating has now sunk below that of President Barack Obama who tallied an 88% job disapproval rating.  It is the first time a Pennsylvania governor’s job approval has dipped lower than President Obama’s.

Business Climate

Driving the Governor’s record low job approval rating is a growing pessimism over the state’s economic climate.  In numbers not seen since the depths of the Great Recession in 2009, 54% of the business owners and CEOs say Pennsylvania’s business climate has gotten worse over the past six months.  That is up from 33% who experienced worsening economic conditions one year ago.  The number of respondents saying the state’s business climate has gotten better over the past six months stood at just 6%, down from 13% one year ago.  Looking ahead, 76% expect the state’s business climate to worsen over the coming six months, 8% look for conditions to improve.

In recent years, employment levels have held relative steady.  That has now changed as 22% said they employ fewer people than they did six months ago, 9% report an increase in employment.  In what passes for optimism in this poll, the same number (15%) predict employment levels at their business will rise or fall over the coming six months.

Another turn-around is in company sales.  After steady or moderate increases in sales, the Spring 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey found sales had dropped at 39% of the companies responding, and increased at 18%.   But, 27% project a sales increase over the coming six months while 15% say they look for sales to decrease.

State Issues

About a third (30%) of the business leaders polled said their business had been harmed by the state budget impasse.  But, 85% think Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed state budget will harm Pennsylvania’s overall business climate; 65% say it will inflict significant harm. Seven percent see the Wolf budget as helping the state’s economy.

Governor Wolf claims the state has a “structural budget deficit” of over $1 billion dollars.  Assuming that is correct, 77% of the CEOs/owners said the state should cut spending to match revenue.  Eighteen percent support a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes to balance the budget.  About 1% suggested maintaining current spending levels and raising taxes to cover the deficit.  Just 1% support Governor Wolf’s approach which is to increase spending and increase taxes to cover both the deficit and higher spending.

As part of his budget proposal, Governor Wolf has included an 11% increase in the state income tax for all individuals and businesses.  Ninety-four percent oppose that proposal; 5% are in agreement.  Another Wolf initiative is to raise the state’s 6% sales tax to help balance the budget.  That idea was turned thumbs down by 73% of the poll respondents, but earned the support of 25%.  Opposition was especially strong to the idea of increasing the state’s Corporate Net Income (CNI) tax.  Ninety percent oppose the idea with 76% expressing strong opposition.  Six percent support raising the CNI.

In the absence of a state budget, Governor Tom Wolf has continued to spend money on those items he deems appropriate.  When asked if they think it is constitutional for the governor to spend state tax dollars on line items that have not yet been approved by the legislature, 87% said it is not; 5% think it passes constitutional muster.

The business owners and CEOs participating in the Spring 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey do not want a state budget adopted at any costs.  When asked if they agree or disagree with this statement: A new state budget should be adopted immediately even if it means significant increase in my taxes, 89% disagreed – 80% strongly disagreed.  Nine percent agreed and said a state budget should be adopted regardless even if it means higher taxes.

On other issues, the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives is considering impeachment proceedings against Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Kane is under indictment for allegedly leaking Grand Jury information and has announced she will not seek re-election in November.  Fifty percent of the business leaders said the House should drop impeachment proceedings; 41% think impeachment proceedings should continue.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is considering the legalization of medical marijuana.  Sixty-three percent support the legalization of medical marijuana; 31% oppose legalization.

By executive order Governor Tom Wolf has raised the minimum wage for state employees to $10.15 per hour.  Eighty-one percent of the CEOs/business owners said they oppose raising the minimum wage for the private sector to that level; 17% would support such an increase in the minimum wage.

Job Approval Ratings

President Barack Obama continues to receive strongly negative job performance reviews from survey participants.  Eighty-eight percent disapprove of the job the President is doing; 9% approve.  Janet Yellen, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board also received negative marks: 44% negative to 18% positive as did U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew with 39% disapproving of his job performance and 5% offering their approval.

The only official tested with a net positive job approval rating was U.S. Senator Pat Toomey.  The state’s junior senator was given a positive rating by 48% of the business leaders against a 24% negative rating.  U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. scored a 14% positive, 56% negative rating.

As noted, Governor Tom Wolf received a record high disapproval rating at 89%.  That was worse than the negative rating given to Attorney General Kane.  The indicted top law enforcement official received a 75% negative rating and a 10% positive rating.  Two-thirds or more offered no opinion on the two statewide fiscal officers.  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale got positive marks from 15%, with 17% offering a negative view.  State Treasurer Tim Reese had a 17% negative rating against an 8% positive rating.

Participants in the survey offered a strong negative view of the job being done by the United States Senate: 77% hold a negative view of the institution’s job performance with 12% having a positive view.  The U.S. House of Representatives fared a bit better with 72% offering a negative assessment and 18% a positive view.  Fifty-one percent of the respondents give the Pennsylvania State Senate negative marks, 37% think the state senate is doing a good job.  Fifty-one percent have a negative view of the job being done by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives; 39% say the lower chamber is doing a good job.

Methodology

The Spring 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey was conducted electronically from March 14, 2016 thru April 1, 2016.  A total of 367 individuals responded of which 84% are the owner of their business; 13% are the CEO/COO/CFO and 2% are a state or a local manager. Complete numeric results can be viewed at http://www.lincolninstitute.org.

For interviews on this survey please contact Lowman S. Henry at717 671-0776 or lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.

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Governor Wolf Posts 82% Disapproval Rating


Malaise: Business Owners Turn Deeply Negative

Governor Wolf posts 82% disapproval rating

Governor Tom Wolf, who owned and operated a mid-sized business before running for office, has become enormously unpopular with his former peers posting the second highest negative rating for a governor in the 20-year history of the Keystone Business Climate Survey.  The September poll of business owners and chief executive officers found 82% hold a negative view of the governor’s job performance while 12% say he is doing a good job.

The governor’s budget proposals lie at the heart of the business community’s disapproval. Eight-one percent say the Wolf tax and spending plans would harm Pennsylvania’s business climate, 64% say they would do significant harm.  Further, Wolf gets the lion’s share of the blame for the budget impasse.  Fifty-eight percent say the budget stalemate is the governor’s fault, just 6% blame legislative Republicans.  Another 32% say both the governor and the legislature are to blame for the lack of a state budget.

Business Climate

One year ago, for the first time since the Fall of 2004, more of the business owners/CEOs participating in the survey said that business conditions in Pennsylvania had gotten better (20%) during the preceding six months that felt it had gotten worse (19%).  By last Spring those number had slipped significantly into negative territory with 13% saying business conditions had improved and 33% saying the state’s business climate had gotten worse.  In the current (September 2015) survey, 42% say the business climate in Penn’s Woods got worse over the past six months, 6% say it has improved.

Optimism for improvement of the state’s business climate in the coming six months has faded since last Spring.  Only 6% expect business conditions to improve headed into the new year, down from the 12% who expressed optimism last Spring.  Those who expect the business climate to get worse rose from 44% in March to 49% in the September survey.

Employment levels are also slipping.  Fifteen percent of the owners/CEOs said they have increased the number of employees in their business over the past six months, 21% said they now employ fewer people.  Looking ahead, 14% plan to add employees in the coming six months, 16% expect to have fewer employees.

Sales are also down.  Twenty-eight percent of the businesses participating in the survey say their sales have decreased over the past six months, 27% say sales are up.  There is a bit of optimism for the future, however, as 25% project an increase in sale over the upcoming six months while 18% are bracing for a decrease.

State Issues

The ongoing state budget impasse remains a top issue. Governor Wolf has put the biggest proposed tax hike in the nation on the table, the Republican-controlled legislature refuses to go along. Owners/CEOs participating in the Fall 2015 Keystone Business Climate Survey are not willing to see a resolution of the budget stalemate at any cost. Ninety percent said they do not want a new state budget if it will result in a significant increase in their taxes.  Nine percent say they are willing to pay significantly higher taxes if it would result in an immediate budget resolution.

Education spending is one of the sticking points in the budget.  Governor Wolf is demanding significantly higher spending.  But the poll found business owners disagree with the need to spend more on K-12 public education.  Forty-four percent say the state already spends too much on public education and another 30% feel current spending levels are about right.  Twenty-two percent agree with the governor that too little money is spent on education.

There is strong agreement with the Republican legislative position that the public education pension system must be reformed before any increase in spending is approved. Eighty-seven percent see pension reform as a prerequisite to spending more on education, 10% disagree.

Looking at the budget generally, 69% agree that any resolution to the state budget impasse must include a plan to privatize Pennsylvania’s state-run liquor store system.  Twenty-two percent do not link liquor privatization to a budget resolution.

Asked which statement most closely describes Governor Tom Wolf’s budget proposal 45% said it is a significant increase in spending, 21% identified it as the biggest spending increase in state history and 15% correctly identified it as a tax and spending increase greater than that proposed by all 49 other states combined.  Two percent termed the budget a “modest increase” in state spending.

By some estimates Pennsylvania spends about $700 million a year on individual grants or tax breaks to certain companies or industries. Such grants are viewed by some as “economic development,” by others as “corporate welfare.”  Thirty-two percent of the business owners/CEOs said such grants should be eliminated entirely and taxes reduced on all businesses.  Eleven percent favor the elimination of such grants with the savings used to balance the state budget.  Forty percent would reduce, but not eliminate economic development grants, and 4% think more money should be spent on such projects.

Job Approval Ratings

Eighty-two percent disapprove of the job being done by Governor Wolf, up from the 70% who held a negative view of the governor in the March 2015 poll.  That number is the second highest disapproval rating for a governor in the 20-year history of the Keystone Business Climate Survey surpassed only by the 86% negative rating received by Governor Ed Rendell in September of 2009. The only elected official with a lower job approval rating that Governor Wolf is President Barack Obama. Eighty-eight percent of those participating have a negative view of the President’s job performance, 10% view him in a positive light.  U.S. Senator Pat Toomey received a 47% positive job approval against a 28% negative rating.  U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. didn’t fare as well, 64% disapprove of the job the senior senator from Pennsylvania is doing, 15% approve.  The business leaders are also not pleased with the job being done by federal fiscal officials.  Forty-four percent disapprove of the job being done by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Janet Yellen, 21% approve.  U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is viewed negatively by 42%, while 11% approve of his job performance.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is under indictment for allegedly leaking secret grand jury information.  Sixty-eight percent disapprove of her performance in office, 8% approve.  However, 43% say she should not resign from office and is innocent until proven guilty.  Forty percent think she should resign and 10% want her to be impeached.

Legislative chambers continue to be viewed negatively by the business owners/CEOs.  Only ten percent have a positive opinion of the job being done by the United States Senate, 15% approve of the job being done by the U.S. House of Representatives.  The state legislature fared better: 31% approve of the job being done by the Pennsylvania Senate, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives earned a 34% job approval rating.

Presidential Race

Business community support for presidential candidates closely mirrored current nationwide polls. Donald Trump leads the pack at 26% followed by Dr. Ben Carson at 23%.  Carly Fiorina registered 7% followed by Ted Cruz at 7% and Scott Walker (who has since exited the race) at 6%.  The rest of the field, including all of the Democratic candidates, scored at 5% or less.

Methodology

The Fall 2015 Keystone Business Climate Survey was conducted electronically between September 14, 2015 and September 21, 2015.  A total of 324 business leaders responded.  Of those 80% are the owner of a business; 14% are the CEO/COO/CFO; 2% a local manager and 1% a state manager.   Twenty-nine percent of the respondents have businesses based in southeastern Pennsylvania, 21% in southcentral Pennsylvania, 17% in southwestern Pennsylvania, 9% in northwestern Pennsylvania, 7% in northeastern Pennsylvania, 5% in the Lehigh Valley, and 5% each in north central Pennsylvania and the Johnstown/Altoona area.  Complete numeric results of the poll are available at www.lincolninstitute.org.

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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: Business Climate Survey Results


Radio Program Schedule for the week of October 25, 2014 – October 31, 2014

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with former Virginia Governor James Gilmore of the Free Congress Foundation about the federal response to Ebola
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on what to expect from a U.S. Senate under Republican control
  • Eric Boehm and Katie Watson have a Watchdog Radio look at examples of government waste found in Senator Tom Coburn’s new “waste book”
  • Col. Frank Ryan, USMC (Ret.) has an American Radio Journal commentary on what will happen if the dollar ceases to be the world currency

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from paindependent.com
  • Kevin Shivers from the PA Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business hosts a Capitol Watch look at results of the Fall 2014 Keystone Business Climate Survey with Nathan Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation and Neal Lesher from NFIB
  • Lowman Henry has a Town Hall Commentary on the GOP’s new war on poverty

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 Climate Improving…But Obamacare a drag on employment, pay


For the first time in a decade, by a narrow margin, more Pennsylvania employers say business conditions in the commonwealth are improving than say the state’s economy is getting worse.  But, that optimism is tempered by a lack of job creation and lower wage hikes due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

George W. Bush was president and on the verge of re-election in 2004, the last time respondents to the Lincoln Institute’s Keystone Business Climate Survey thought the business climate was getting better rather than worse.  Since then the nation has experienced the Great Recession and subsequent slow recovery.

But, the current survey finds 20% of the business owners and CEOs responding say over the past six months business conditions in Pennsylvania have gotten better, while 19% say the state’s economy has gotten worse.  By comparison, one year ago 31% felt business conditions had gotten worse and just 14% saw an improvement.

There is not, however, optimism for the immediate future.  Looking ahead six months, 27% expect business conditions in Pennsylvania to get worse, while 16% expect conditions to get better.

Driving the current burst of optimism are increasing sales.  Thirty-six percent of the companies said sales have increased over the past six months as 24% reported decreased sales.  Looking ahead, 32% project sales will increase, 13% expect sales to drop.

Employment levels dropped over the past six months, with 20% reporting higher employment and 24% saying employment at their business has decreased.  Looking ahead six months, 21% project adding employees, while 9% plan to employ fewer workers.

Impact of the Affordable Care Act

It is clear the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, is having a negative impact on both the number of jobs that are being created, and on wages and pay hikes. Twenty-five percent of the business leaders participating in the survey said they have decided not to hire additional employees due to the requirements of Obamacare.  Ten percent said they have actually reduced the number of employees because of ACA; while another 3% said they hired, but did so later than they had planned.  Less than 1% said they hired sooner than planned because of Obamacare. Fifty-eight percent said ACA has had no impact on their hiring plans.

In terms of wages/salaries, 33% said they have delayed giving pay raises due to the costs of Obamacare.  Twenty-eight percent indicated they reduced the amounts of pay raises, while 26% said they paid new hires less to compensate for the costs associated with compliance of the Affordable Care Act.  Five percent reduced the pay of current employees, while 2% said they increased employee pay in response to ACA requirements.  A total of 42% said Obamacare has no impact on their wages/salaries.

State Issues

Education spending has been a major issue in the gubernatorial campaign. But, unlike the electorate at-large, business owners and CEOs participating in the Fall 2014 Keystone Business Climate Surveysay the state spends too much money on public education.  Forty percent think state government spend too much on public education, 29% say the state spends too little, while 27% say state spending on public education is about the right amount.

By a large margin, 78% to 19%, the employers say they are not willing to pay higher taxes to provide additional funding to public education.  There is, however, strong support for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) which businesses can claim for donating money to K-12 educational institutions.  Forty-seven percent think the General Assembly should allocate more month to the tax credit fund so more businesses can participate; 36% say the fund should be kept at current levels.

Taxes have also been a major campaign issue in 2014.  When asked whether Pennsylvania should retain the current “flat” income tax or move to a “graduated” income tax where low income earners are exempt and higher income earners pay a higher rate 84% said they support the current “flat” income tax, 14% would like to see a “graduated” rate.

A proposal to exempt the first $30,000 from state income taxes and raise the rate for money earned above that level from 3.07% to 5% drew strong opposition from the business leaders.  Seventy-three percent oppose such a system with 60% saying they are strongly opposed.    Twenty-three percent said they would support such a change.

Mandating paid sick leave for employees was opposed by three-quarters of the business owners and CEOs who participated in the Lincoln Institute survey.  Seventeen percent said they would support mandating paid sick leave for businesses with over 50 employees. Another 6% support mandating paid sick leave for all businesses regardless of size.

Job Approval Ratings

Mirroring the national trend, President Obama received a highly negative job approval rating from the business owners and CEOs.  Eighty-five percent voiced a negative view of the president, while 13% offered a positive assessment.

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey is viewed favorably by 51% of the survey participants while 24% have a negative view.  The numbers reverse for U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. as 60% offered a negative view of his job performance against a 21% positive rating.   Fed Chairman Janet Yellen received a 38% negative / 28% positive rating; and, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew scored a 42% negative / 8% positive.

At the state level Governor Tom Corbett sports a 52% positive rating while 35% disapprove of the job being done by the Republican governor.  The CEOs and business owners turned thumbs down on Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who received a 49% negative rating against just 16% positive.  Most offered no opinion on the job performance of Auditor General Eugene Depasquale and State Treasurer Rob McCord.  Of those who did, Depasquale had a 20% negative / 11% positive rating and McCord scored 21% negative / 17% positive.

Participants in the Fall 2014 Keystone Business Climate Survey took a dim view of the job being done by both Congress and by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  Eighty-nine percent offered a negative assessment of the U.S. Senate, with 7% having a positive view.  The U.S. House of Representatives fared slightly better scoring a 72% negative / 22% positive rating.  Sixty-three percent have a negative view of the job being done by the Pennsylvania Senate, 19% approve.  The Pennsylvania House of Representatives turned in a marginally higher score, with a 62% negative / 23% positive rating.

And, Governor Tom Corbett finally came out ahead in one poll.  Sixty-five percent of the business owners and CEOs said they plan to vote for the incumbent governor in the November 4th General Election, 20% say they will cast their ballot for Democratic challenger Tom Wolf.  However, 53% expect Wolf to win the election, while 29% predict a Corbett victory.

Methodology

The Lincoln Institute’s 2014 Keystone Business Climate Survey was conducted electronically from September 26, 2014 through October 17, 2014.  A total of 316 responses were received.  Of those, 69% are the owner of their business, 24% are the CEO/COO or CFO, another 4% are a state or local manager. Twenty-seven percent of the respondents are located in southeastern Pennsylvania, 18% in southwestern Pennsylvania, 14% in the northwest section of the state, 17% in south-central Pennsylvania, 11% in northeastern Pennsylvania, 6% in the Lehigh Valley, six percent in north-central Pennsylvania and 1% in the Altoona/Johnstown area. Complete numeric results are available at www.lincolninstitute.org.

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