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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.


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

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

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Rules for Conservatives

If the Left had a religion (which of course they don’t), their Bible would be a book by tactical guru Saul Alinsky entitled Rules for Radicals.  The original “community organizer,” Alinsky’s seminal work has been the “how to” guide for the extreme Left for several generations.

Using Alinsky’s rules, liberals (now re-branded progressives) have generally out-maneuvered conservatives on the ideological battlefield.  After an extended period of time conservatives have somewhat caught onto the Left’s tactics, but still it would be helpful for the Right to have its own set of rules.  This is difficult because unlike the Left, which moves in politically correct lockstep, conservatives actually think for themselves making unity more difficult.  But, herewith I am willing to offer some suggested Rules for Conservatives:

Rule # 7:  Talk about why we can win, not why we can’t.  As the current presidential campaign has unfolded conservatives have fallen into the mainstream media trap of talking about why their candidates cannot win. Trump can’t win because he has a big mouth.  Rubio can’t win because he isn’t sufficiently conservative.  Cruz can’t win because he is too conservative.  Rather than focus on why each potential candidate can’t win, talk about why he or she can win.

Rule # 6: Obey the ‘Buckley Rule’.  William F. Buckley, one of the founding fathers of modern day conservatism back in 1964 observed that we should support “the rightward most viable candidate.”  Conservatives love to stand on principle, and while we should never abandon our core beliefs, we must also take elect-ability into account when deciding which candidate to support.

Rule # 5: Don’t fight over minor policy differences. Especially in crowded primary fights candidates and their supporters tend to fixate on even the tiniest differences in policy positions.  This causes voters’ eyes to glaze over and worse obstructs their view of the big picture.  Yes, at some point those minor differences will become important.  But not until you actually win the election and are in a position of power.

Rule # 4: Accept partial victories.  We all have a policy end game.  But the political process generally unfolds in small steps not in big, bold moves. The Left understands this and is willing to accept a small victory then come back and fight for more.  Conservatives demand all or nothing, and all too often end up with nothing.  Remember, change is a marathon, not a sprint.

Rule # 3: Don’t hold grudges.  The old saying “friends are temporary, but enemies are forever” often applies to conservatives.  Your competitor in this election cycle or on one policy fight just might be your ally in the next.  Be willing to forgive because there aren’t enough of us to be divided by past grievances.

Rule # 2: Be a happy warrior.  Even when almost felled by a would-be assassin’s bullet Ronald Reagan joked with doctors on his way into the operating room.  We are not the dour old Left that sits around worried about the world vaporizing because of climate change.  We live in the greatest nation known to man with freedoms granted to us by our Creator.  This is a cause for celebration and joy. Act accordingly.

Rule # 1: Never give up.  Yes, some of our candidates will lose and the Left will win more than their share of policy battles.  But there is always another election and there will inevitably be a new policy battle.  Ronald Reagan lost a string of early primaries in 1980 and was given up for politically dead.  But he pushed through the defeats, eventually winning enough delegates to claim the nomination and ultimately the presidency.  Ronald Reagan never gave up, and neither should we.

I’m sure you could probably add a few more rules of you own to this list, but as a new and pivotal year in American history is about to unfold we need to keep our goals in mind, focus on what is most important, and fight hard for freedom.  After all, this gift called America is now in our possession and it is our duty to preserve, protect and defend what Abraham Lincoln called “the last best hope” of man on Earth.

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

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

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Time to Move the PA Presidential Primary

The 2016 Presidential race has officially begun.  Over the past couple of weeks Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton have formally announced their candidacies. The field of Republican candidates likely will total a dozen or more.  Hillary Clinton’s early stumbles make the entry of former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley more likely.

With no incumbent president in the race, voters in both the Republican and Democratic primaries will actually have a choice in 2016.  It is a contest voters in Pennsylvania will likely watch from the sidelines.  By the time our state’s late April primary is held results of primaries and caucuses elsewhere will have determined the eventual nominees.

Only one time in recent years, 2008, has the Pennsylvania primary actually mattered.  That year Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled for the Democratic nomination until June before Mrs. Clinton conceded.  Democrats had a choice, but John McCain had been ordained the GOP nominee months earlier.

Every four years the debate begins anew about Pennsylvania’s lack of clout in the presidential nominating process owing to the lateness of its primary.  And, every four years absolutely nothing is done to correct the problem.

Pennsylvania is the sixth largest state in the nation.  More so than perhaps any other state we are a microcosm of the nation as a whole.  With Philadelphia we have a large eastern city, while Pittsburgh has more of a mid-western orientation.  We have large, thriving suburbs and expansive rural areas.  Our population is diverse. Statewide elections in Pennsylvania tend to be competitive with both parties having shown recent success.

An early primary in Pennsylvania would be a much more accurate indicator of voter preference than Iowa or New Hampshire which are smaller and less diverse.  Those two states lead off the balloting in late January.  February 2nd is shaping up as a mini “Super Tuesday” with New York, Minnesota, Colorado and Utah holding primaries on that date.  It would be an ideal time for primary voters in Penn’s Woods to go to the polls and give us a real say in the nomination process. Instead, nearly three more months and 24 other states will hold primaries or caucuses before Pennsylvanians vote. All of this means Keystone state voters will have virtually no say in which candidates the parties nominate.

Making matters worse, Pennsylvania’s presidential primaries are essentially beauty contests in that the outcome of the balloting has little or no impact on the selection of delegates to the party nomination conventions.  Delegates are selected in separate elections, and/or by party state committees meaning presidential candidates must line up slates of delegate candidates months before the primary. This is a process they tend to by-pass in favor of focusing their efforts on the early primary and caucus states.

Moving Pennsylvania’s primary to an earlier date poses a logistical challenge.  It would require holding a separate primary in February for presidential balloting and a regular primary in May for selecting congressional and legislative nominees. Or, the entire process could be moved from April to February. Holding two primaries would increase costs, while holding congressional and legislative elections in February would advance the start of the process into the previous year’s holiday season.

The cost of an additional primary must be weighed against the economic benefits it would generate.  New Hampshire public radio, based on a study of the 2000 presidential primary when both party nominations were up for grabs, estimated the economic impact at $230 million. The economic benefits to Pennsylvania, a much larger state, would be significantly higher.

Dollars aside, the major drawback to Pennsylvania’s late presidential primary is the absence of our voters having any real say in the selection of party nominees.  We are a large state and we deserve better, but it is a problem nobody in Harrisburg seems willing to address.

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

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited

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Divided They Stand

For the past four years Republicans have had a partisan, if not governing majority in all parts of state government.  In a couple of weeks a new Democrat governor will take office ushering in an era of divided government.  Given that the GOP was stymied while holding the governor’s office, what are the odds anything of significance will be accomplished over the next four years with Tom Wolf in that position?

Here are three possible scenarios ordered by their increased likelihood of actually happening:

Scenario 1:  Newly installed Governor Tom Wolf abandons the far Left-wing positions he adopted last spring to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary and adopts a pro-growth strategy.  For starters, he shelves the labor union’s approach to the state’s public pension crisis and admits there actually is a problem. He works with the Republican majorities in the legislature to adopt comprehensive pension reform, and then moves incrementally to loosen the state’s monopoly on the wholesale and retail distribution of wine and spirits thus generating the revenue needed to increase funding to education and other Democratic spending priorities.

Scenario 2:  With enhanced majorities in both the state House and the state Senate, buttressed by more conservative leadership in both chambers, Republicans press for and pass pension reform, liquor privatization, paycheck protection and other policy priorities held hostage by a minority of southeastern GOP legislators in the last session of the General Assembly.  Despite the fact Governor Tom Wolf vetoes all of these measures Republicans draw a bright line in the sand demonstrating to voters the difference between their pro-growth agenda and the Democrats’ big government agenda.

Scenario 3:  Governor Tom Wolf emboldened by the far Left ideologues on his staff and united Democratic caucuses in both chambers pushes forward a union-dominated agenda and crusades for higher taxes.  A majority of Republicans in both chambers stand firm, but amid media criticism labeling the GOP as “obstructionist,” enough Republican legislators in both chambers break ranks and give Wolf the votes he needs to enact his agenda.

The latter scenario is what played out during the Rendell Administration when Democrats stood united and labor unions were able to peel off just enough Republican votes to achieve their goals.  During those years, House Republicans were the bulwark against run-away spending, but weak GOP leadership in the state Senate coupled with the power of southeastern Republicans beholden to the unions shattered Republican resistance.

But, the playing field has changed a bit since Rendell retreated to the City of Brotherly Love.  For starters, although voters rejected Tom Corbett’s bid for a second term, they embraced the Republican agenda by sending enhanced GOP majorities to both chambers.  For a variety of reasons GOP legislative candidates tilted further to the Right in 2014, and that proved to be electorally successful.

More importantly, the composition of the state Senate’s Republican caucus has changed dramatically.  The union-backed Republican Majority Leader Domenic Pileggi was ousted by the more conservative Senator Jake Corman.  Republicans trounced Democrats in traditionally-Democratic districts picking up two seats in southwestern Pennsylvania.  And, exposing as fraudulent the excuse that southeastern Republicans have to toe the union line to get elected/re-elected, newly minted state Senator Tom McGarrigle defeated an actual labor union leader to win an open seat in Delaware County.

Tom Wolf ran a campaign that was big on ideas and lacking in specifics.  That leaves him a bit of wiggle room, but at least at the onset his administration is likely to push the broad agenda outlined during his campaign.  The tenor of the next four years will become clear in the GOP response to his policy initiatives.  The big question to be answered is will this be a replay of the Rendell years where each battle ends with Republican capitulation, or have the voters affected enough change for the GOP to stand firm behind the policies on which they campaigned?

My only prediction is we won’t have to wait long to learn the answer.

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

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

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Recovery? PA Employers Say PA Economy Remains Sluggish

(Harrisburg, PA)  Despite the conventional wisdom that the nation is emerging from a four-year economic downturn, results of the Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey find employers in the commonwealth less optimistic than they were one year ago – and fewer expect the business climate to improve in the coming months.  The survey also found a majority favor further cuts in state spending, particularly on public welfare.  There is also broad-based support for placing strict limits on the rate at which state spending can increase in the future.

When asked if business conditions in Pennsylvania are better, the same, or worse than they were six months ago, 17% reported improved conditions while 30% said business conditions had gotten worse.  A majority, 51%, said business conditions had remained about the same.  A year ago the survey found 25% saw business conditions improving, with 28% saying they had gotten worse.  There was a slight uptick in the November survey, but the numbers slipped backwards again in the current poll.

Looking ahead six months, 16% of the business owners and chief executive officers participating in the poll said they expect Pennsylvania’s business climate to improve, while 26% expect a further deterioration in the economy. Response to that question was considerably more pessimistic than a year ago when 38% forecast improving business conditions, and six months ago when 22% felt conditions would improve.

The number of companies operating with fewer employees again outpaced those that had added jobs over the past six months.  Twenty percent said employment levels at their business are lower than they were six months ago while 13% reported employing more people.  Sixty-six percent said the number of employees at their place of business remained about the same over the past six months.  A year ago, the Keystone Business Climate Survey found employment up at 22% of the companies and down at 22%.  The November survey found a return to negative territory and that trend continued in this spring’s survey. Going forward there is a bit of optimism: 16% expect to add employees over the coming six months while 13% say they will employ fewer workers.  But again, those numbers are down from a year ago when 29% forecast growing their workforce and 17% predicted job cuts.

Another area of concern for employers is sales.  Thirty-five percent said sales at their company have decreased over the past six months while 28% reported increased sales.  Thirty-seven percent said sales were static.  A year ago, the numbers were more positive with 30% having reported sales increases and 29% decreasing sales.  Looking ahead six months, 32% remain optimistic that sales will increase, while 20% say sales will decline.

Despite the generally poor business conditions in Pennsylvania relatively few companies have moved from the commonwealth.  Less than one percent said they have moved some of their operations out of the state.  But, not one single company surveyed reported having moved any operations into Pennsylvania from another state. Five percent said they are considering moving some operations from Penn’s Woods, while another 4% are considering moving all their operations elsewhere.

Job Approval Ratings


President Barack Obama has never received good job performance ratings in the Keystone Business Climate Survey. But, the bottom fell out in the current poll.  Eighty-nine percent of those polled have a negative view of the President’s job performance while just nine percent gave him a favorable review.  A year ago, 27% had a favorable opinion of the President’s job performance while 68% expressed negative views.  Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke fared only slightly better in the current poll with 59% disapproving of his job handling the nation’s economy while 19% approved. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner earned a 7% job approval rating with 68% disapproving of the job he is doing.

Conversely, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey saw a significant increase in his job approval rating.  Forty-seven percent said the state’s junior senator is doing a good job, while 23% expressed a negative view.  Six months ago Toomey was upside down in his rating with 38% expressing disapproval and 28% approving.  Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.’s numbers are headed in the opposite direction.  Eleven percent of the employers surveyed approve of the job he is doing in the U.S. Senate, 62% disapprove. That is a drop from six months ago when 17% approved and 54% disapproved of how he is handling his job.

At the state level, Governor Tom Corbett’s approval numbers have remained relatively stable over the past year.  The Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey found 48% approve of the job the governor is doing, with 32% registering their disapproval.  A year ago, 44% gave the governor positive marks while 30% disapproved of how he was handling his job.   A large majority of respondent offered no opinion on the job performance of Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rob McCord and Auditor General Jack Wagner.  Of those who did, 19% gave Wagner a positive review with 15% negative.  Fourteen percent hold the job being done by Treasurer McCord in a positive light, and 16% expressed disapprove of his job performance.

Employers participating in the survey continue to hold strongly negative views of the job performance of the legislative branches of the federal and state governments.  Congress is held in especially low esteem.  Only 5% credit the U.S. Senate with doing a good job, 92% view the Senate negatively.  Twenty-four percent approve of the job being done by the U.S. House of Representatives, 71% disagree.  At the state level, 22% give positive marks to the senate, with 56% disapproving.  The Pennsylvania House earned the best rating among the legislative chambers, although that is faint praise with 26% approving and 53% disapproving of the job being done by our state representatives.

State Budget

Last year Governor Tom Corbett and the General Assembly passed a state budget that held the line on both spending and taxes.  Respondents to the Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey say they didn’t go far enough. Fifty-nine percent said when the new state budget is enacted this June spending should be cut further.  Thirty-six percent said the current rate of spending is about right, while just 3% felt state government should increase taxes and spending.

Among the areas of proposed budget cuts is spending in the Department of Public Welfare.  This department includes programs such as Children and Youth Services, cash assistance such as food stamps and medical benefits to low income recipients and funding to nursing homes.  Spending in this area has increased over 50% in the last nine years.  Ninety-two percent said they support cutting the Department of Public Welfare budget – 65% strongly supporting such cuts.  Eight percent disagreed.

In terms of which categories employers would like to see state budget cuts, public welfare was at the top of the list at 69% followed by human services (42%), prisons & corrections (41%), higher education (38%), health care (32%), economic development (24%), K-12 education (16%), and highways/transportation 8%.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a law that would limit increases in government spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth.  For example, if we had three percent inflation and one percent population growth government spending could increase no more than four percent that year.  The limit could only be exceeded by a majority of voters in a referendum at election time or by vote of two-thirds of lawmakers in a declared emergency.  Generally speaking, 77% of the employers participating in the poll said they support such a law – 38% are strongly in favor.  Nineteen percent oppose such a law.

As for the new law permitting counties to levy taxes/fees on companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale region, 31% said the new tax is about right, 24% said the tax is not high enough, and 22% said no additional tax should have been levied on drillers.

Union Power Issues

The 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey found strong support among employers for enactment of a Right to Work law, whereby a worker cannot be compelled to join or pay fees to a labor union as a condition of employment.  Ninety-two percent support enactment of a Right to Work law – 85% strongly supporting such legislation.  Seven percent were in opposition.

Currently, many school districts in Pennsylvania collect union dues via payroll deduction from the paychecks of teachers and other school district employees.  Those dues are then transferred to union bank accounts.  State legislators are considering a law that would require unions to collect these membership dues directly instead of relying on school districts and other governmental units to do so.  Eighty-five percent of those polled support such a change in the law, with 73% strongly in favor.  Seven percent disagreed.

Construction projects funded by tax dollars in Pennsylvania are subject to the Prevailing Wage law, which essentially requires union level wages to be paid on all such projects.  When asked whether the current system of Prevailing Wage should be kept, or whether market conditions should be allowed to set labor rates, 91% voiced support for a switch to market rates, while 8% supported keeping the current system.


With a parade of former high ranking legislative leaders headed off to prison, a number of proposals have been suggested to reform the General Assembly.  When asked which reforms they would support 63% said there should be a requirement for legislators to provide receipts when being reimbursed for expenses; 54% favor reducing the size of the General Assembly; 51% think legislative pensions should be eliminated; 39% would make the legislature part-time while 27% would limit sessions to 90 days each year.  Another 45% voiced support for all of the proposals.

The General Assembly is considering a plan to end the state’s liquor store monopoly and place distribution and retail sales of wine and spirits in private hands.  Eighty-four percent of the business chieftains agree with that idea, 61% strongly so.  Twelve percent disagreed.


The Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey was conducted electronically from April 20th through April 24th.  A total of 324 business owners, CEOs, CFOs, state and/or local managers participated in the survey.  Complete numeric results can be obtained at

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