Posts Tagged poll

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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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Business Climate Survey Results


Radio Program Schedule for the week of May 9, 2015 – May 15, 2015

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from PAIndependent.com
  • David Taylor of the PA Manufacturers Association is joined by Kevin Shivers and Neal Lesher from the PA Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business for a Capitol Watch look at results of the Lincoln Institute’s Spring 2015 Keystone Business Climate Survey
  • Lowman Henry has a Town Hall Commentary on the epic failure of liberal public policy in Baltimore

KBCS Spring 2015 PATH

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute about the impact on student achievement of closing under-performing schools
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on Mike Huckabee’s record as Arkansas Governor
  • Eric Boehm and Katie Watson have a Watchdog Radio Report on using cigarette taxes to close state and local budget deficits
  • Lowman Henry has an American Radio Journal commentary on the epic failure of liberal policies in Baltimore

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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Results of the Public Opinion Focus Group on Educating for Opportunity and Social Impact Financing on November 19, 2014


Compiled by Erik Randolph on behalf of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.
Revised February 2, 2015

ABSTRACT: With the assistance of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research convened a public opinion focus group on the issue of social impact financing (SIF) as an innovative approach to using private dollars to fund increases in public programming and reduce the need for costly social services in the future.

 

Social impact financing, also known as social impact bonds or pay for success financing, is an innovative financing mechanism whereby private investors finance social programs with the objective of increasing positive outcomes and decreasing public dollars spent on remedial measures. If the programs are successful in meeting benchmarks specified in the contract and verified by an independent third party evaluator, the investors receive a return on their investments based on the public sector savings. Discussion points included the following:

 

* What is Social Impact Financing?

 

* What types of programs are best suited for Social Impact Financing?

 

* What is the government’s level of involvement?

 

* What levels of government can successfully use Social Impact Financing?

 

* What happens to the savings that are realized through social impact financing programs?

 

* What other non-monetary benefits can result from social impact financing projects?

 

o The use of an independent evaluator can help service providers effectively quantify their programs and benefits and can help public funders reduce wasteful spending to ineffective programs.

 

o The level of collaboration necessary for a successful Social Impact Financing Program requires improved efficiency and collaboration among government agencies and service providers.

 

* What is currently being considered in Pennsylvania and where are we in the process?

 

Public Opinion Focus Group: Beyond Poverty-November 19, 2014 Session 1: Educating for Opportunity: Social Impact Financing: 10 a.m. – 12 noon

 

Background

During the 2013-2014 legislative session, the Majority Policy Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives created the Empowering Opportunities: Gateways-Out-of-Poverty Initiative. This Republican Caucus initiative recognizes that current efforts to address poverty are in need of revision and subsequently searches for opportunities to address barriers that entrap individuals in impoverished conditions and to replicate outcome-based solutions.

 

The initiative is divided into five broad areas for the development of policy and legislative proposals: Outcomes That Matter, Life Skills 101, Benefits That Work, the Essentials, and Educating for Opportunity. With the assistance of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research convened a focus group on proposals in the areas of Educating for Opportunity and Outcomes That Matter.

 

The focus group consisted of leaders from the non-profit sector who provide human services to alleviate social problems associated with poverty. The Honorable Todd Stephens, State Representative for the 151st Legislative District of Pennsylvania, presented on the topic of Social Impact Financing (SIF) for early childhood education programs as part of a developing legislative proposal.

 

Social impact financing, also known as pay for success financing, is an innovative financing mechanism whereby private investors use private dollars to fund increases in public programming in order to reduce the need for costly social services in the future. For example, if a program meets specified goals as measured by an independent third party evaluator, then the governmental entity responsible for funding that program pays the investors a return on their investment. If the SIF-funded programs are successful in producing the desired outcomes, governments save money through the averted future costs, more efficient implementation, or both. If the programs do not meet the negotiated benchmarks that result in reduced government spending, the government does not pay a return on the investment.

 

Social impact financing is a fairly new concept. While examples of its implementation are relatively few, they are increasing steadily throughout the United States across a variety of programs. The focus group was presented with some examples, including details describing how New York and Massachusetts utilized the social impact financing mechanism to help fund job training and rehabilitation of former convicts as a way of reducing recidivism. By reducing recidivism rates, the states save money on their criminal justice and prison systems, and a portion of those savings are used to repay the investors.

More pertinent to the legislative proposal being considered for Pennsylvania, Salt Lake City and Chicago have utilized social impact financing to fund early childhood education programs. According to materials provided to the focus group, the Utah program provides early childhood education services to 3,500 children and the Chicago program provides early childhood education services to 2,600 at-risk children.

Make-Up of Focus Group

The leader of the discussion was Rep. Todd Stephens. The session was moderated by Lowman Henry, chairman and CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc., and recorded by Erik Randolph, Erik Randolph Consulting. Staff in attendance were Brianda Freistat, Research Analyst, Majority Policy Committee; Ashley Grimm, Legal Counsel for the House Republican Caucus; Jenny P. Stanton, Executive Director, House Majority Policy Committee.

The participants were as follows:

* Anne Gingerich, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO);

* Blair Hyatt, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Head Start Association;

* Daniel Leppo, Director, Grants Management, Community Action Association of Pennsylvania;

* Caryn Long, Executive Director, Feeding PA;

* Ashlinn Masland-Sarani, Policy and Development Director, ARC of Pennsylvania;

* Britton Miller, Director of Public Policy and Civic Engagement, PANO;

* Michelle Sanchez, Director of Program Evaluation and Reporting, Maternal and Child Health Consortium of Chester County;

* Eric Saunders, Executive Director, New Hope Ministries.

Discussion Points

The following summary is a compilation of the points made during discussion of the focus group and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of all participants.

The concept of social impact financing was generally well-received as a potential new source of funding, and the participants were interested in learning about the idea.

After an overview of the social impact financing concept, a discussion was had on the benchmarks that would need to be met in order to repay investors. There was some concern that some of the benefits that service providers provide to those in need of their services are difficult to quantify.

However, it was noted that many funders have already been requiring service providers to quantify the benefits, and as a result many non-profits have been moving toward greater quantification of the benefits of their services.

Representative Stephens and his staff explained that social impact financing programs can be used at all levels of government, including state, county and municipal governments. Any government that realizes a reduction in future costs by investments in preventative measures is able to structure a social impact financing program. Many questions from the participants focused on who would be responsible for repaying the investors in the benchmarks were achieved. Representative Stephens and his staff explained that the government who was ultimately receiving the benefit of reduced special education costs (in the early childhood education context), would be responsible for repaying the investors at the end of the program.

Social impact financing requires a significant government commitment to make it successful. The legislature is necessary to pass enabling legislation and provide for the appropriations necessary to cover the cost of the repayment if the benchmarks are achieved. The executive branch is necessary, because the agencies are administering the government programs and are contracting with service providers to provide the needed social services. In the difficult economic climate that Pennsylvania finds itself, the participants were concerned that social impact financing programs could be used as a way to divert traditional state funding away from programs to fund other areas of need rather than be used to supplement the traditional state-funding to expand the programs. Some of the participants suggested that any money saved by the government ought to be reinvested back into the same program areas and not diverted for other uses. There was also some concern about whether the government would be able to set aside a yearly appropriation in an amount that would cover the Commonwealth’s liability if the benchmarks were met under the contract and a repayment to investors was necessary. Potential solutions may include creating a mechanism to set aside the money, such as a revolving fund. These were also discussed in depth.

Discussion points included that unless the government realizes an overall drop in the demand for funding of a program, it is unclear where the money would come from to pay the investors for their return. Consider the starfish analogy, whereby throwing a starfish back into the ocean will help that particular starfish, but there are thousands of other starfish stranded on beaches. In other words, while a government program might help a select group of people, there are still many others who still need help from that same government program, thus the demand for the government program funding may not be reduced.

In response to the starfish analogy, it was stated that an independent third party evaluator would use data to verify savings specific to the definitions and terms that are set forth in a contract whereby the government would be a party to that contract. Also, if the program doesn’t achieve those specified outcomes, the risk is on the investors who would lose out and the governmental entity would not be liable to pay the return to the investors.

Besides, there are several examples today where these contracts are being implemented. Nonetheless, it is important to note that a willing government partner is a crucial component of any social impact financing arrangement.

The ability to develop the necessary metrics to make the concept work appears to be a challenge. Although some non-profits do a good job at program evaluation, many others do not. Additionally, the nature of the populations may contribute to the difficulty because the populations tend to be transient, thus, among other things, making the ability to do longitudinal metrics arduous, especially without additional funding. These concerns would again be addressed at the discretion of the investor/third party intermediary as a negotiating party.

Furthermore, some aspects of providing human services are very difficult to measure. In some cases, good metrics just do not exist. These programs may not be a good fit for social impact financing. Finally, there is a difference between priorities of human services and those aspects of human services that are conducive to measurable outcomes. Subsequently, social impact financing may not be applicable to all social programs, meaning that it may be suitable only for those areas that can be easily measured. Social impact financing bases the repayment on quantifiable measurement. If a program is unable to quantify its data, social impact financing is not the right funding model. That is why it is important to use social impact financing as a supplement to traditional state funding rather than to repay it completely.

However, as was presented, from the experience of several social impact financing deals now being implemented in the United States, representatives from those nonprofit organizations were amazed at what they could measure when an expert was brought in to help with their quantification systems. While it was significant work to upgrade those data systems, the nonprofit organizations indicated it was well worth the effort.

Additionally, the metrics for measuring program outcomes are evolving and improving with time. For example, Goldman Sachs sponsored a social impact financing deal in Salt Lake City, and it recently financed another deal in Chicago. For the subsequent deal, Goldman Sachs revised the metrics for repayment based on lessons it learned from the Salt Lake City deal. The second deal was increased by a substantial hike in investment amounts, climbing from $7 million for the first investment in Salt Lake City and secondly $17 million, in Chicago.

Follow-Up Comments

Bringing in private investors to fund social programs raises fascinating questions. Why is it that government often cannot make programs or assets work financially when for-profit companies using those same assets can? Is there perhaps not some other way for government to become more disciplined? While these questions were left unanswered, social impact financing may be a way to bring discipline into the system, enabling government to become quantitatively-based with measurable outcomes. And once those systems are in place, it may no longer be necessary to continue social impact financing for that specific program.

Representative Stephens introduced a co-sponsorship during the last legislative session and has spent the last seven months touring the Commonwealth to meet with social service providers, school districts, philanthropists and investors. Representative Stephens explained that it was his intention to sponsor legislation that would enable a social impact financing pilot program in early childhood education to take place in Pennsylvania. He suggested that the proposed pilot program have pilots in each of the following areas: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, a third class city, and a rural setting to evaluate the ability to replicate social impact financing programs throughout Pennsylvania.

About the Author:

Erik Randolph is an independent researcher who specializes in evaluating government policies, programs, budgets, and legislation, quantitative analysis, and fiscal and economic modelling. As a consultant, he has provided assistance to organizations, legislators, and governments in four different states in the areas of welfare policy, budgeting, transportation policy, and criminal justice.

Erik has twenty-seven years of extensive experience in government and for seventeen years taught principles of economics for the Harrisburg Area Community College. He developed the first microeconomic model to test how welfare benefits influence behavior when he was a special assistant to the Secretary of Public Welfare for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and he led a chartered team at the department to evaluate the problem of economic disincentives. Prior to his service to the department, he spent nineteen years as an analyst for the Committee on Appropriations of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. While working for the Committee, he evaluated and forecasted costs for legislation, worked on and analyzed state budgets, handled analysis of special fund revenue and capital budgeting, researched and wrote legislation, and conducted special research projects for the chairman.

In the early part of his professional career, Erik worked in the field science and technology policy for the U.S. General Accounting Office (since renamed the Governmental Accountability Office), New York State, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Randolph has a Master’s Degree from the College of Humanities at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in science and technology studies, where he concentrated on the economics and policy of science and technology. He has two Bachelor degrees from the Pennsylvania State University, one majoring in mathematics and the other in political science.

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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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Recovery Stalls: Obamacare a major factor


The Great Recession has given way to a not-so-great recovery as Chief Executive Officers and business owners from across Pennsylvania say that over the past six months economic conditions have at best remained sluggish; and in many cases have worsened.  Among the contributing factors is the uncertainty and cost surrounding implementation of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, and a state government that appears unable to arrive at consensus on many of the most pressing problems facing the commonwealth.

Those were the key findings of the Fall 2013 Keystone Business Climate Survey conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.  Confusion and concern surrounding implementation of Obamacare have 78% of the business leaders responding expecting an increase in employee health care costs.  Conversely, only three percent actually expect the Affordable Health Care Act to be more affordable.  As a result of Obamacare, 21% of the companies participating in the poll said they have increased employee co-pay; 15% have reduced their number of employees; 15% have raised their prices; 11% have cut staff hours and 7% have discontinued providing employees with health care coverage.

Three-quarters of the respondents say Obamacare should be entirely repealed, while another 10% support delaying implementation.  Eleven percent said the act should be implemented as scheduled. The intensity of opinion surrounding Obamacare is so strong that 69% of the CEOs/owners support congress voting to defund the Affordable Health Care Act even if it triggers a general shut-down of the federal government.

Business Climate Worsens

Not only is the economy not improving, the Lincoln Institute survey found by over a two-to-one margin the business chieftains said the state’s business climate has gotten worse over the past six months.  Thirty-one percent indicated business conditions are worse, while 14% say it has improved; 55% say the economic climate has remained about the same.  Looking ahead six months 30% expect business conditions to continue deteriorating; 15% expect conditions to improve.

All of this adds up to bad news on the employment front.  Twenty-seven percent reported employment levels at their company are lower than they were six months ago, 18% have increased their number of employees. Employment levels remained constant at 55% of the businesses participating in the survey.  Looking ahead six months the state’s employment picture is expected to remain static.  Sixty-seven percent anticipate employment numbers remaining the same; 16% expect to have more employees, 16% forecast having fewer employees.

Sales are down at 38% of the companies surveyed, and up at 29%. This is an improvement from the Spring survey when only 17% reported increased sales and 46% said sales were down.  There is some optimism that sales will continue to improve modestly over the coming six months: 31% expect sales increases while 21% expect sales to decline.

Job Performance Ratings

The Lincoln Institute’s Fall 2013 Keystone Business Climate Survey revealed profound disapproval of the job being done by elected officials at both the state and national levels.  The only elected officials with higher positives than negatives are U.S. Senator Pat Toomey and Governor Tom Corbett – and their positive job approval numbers are down significantly from the Spring survey.

Scoring the highest disapproval rating was President Barack Obama who got a thumbs down from 86% of the CEOs/owners polled; only 9% gave the president a positive job approval rating.  Fifty-two percent disapprove of the job being down by outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke; 23% approve.  U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.’s positive job approval among the business leaders stands at 14%; 62% disapprove.  As for U.S. Senator Patrick J. Toomey, 45% approve of the job he is doing while 26% disapprove.  However, Toomey’s positive rating is down 13% since the Spring survey when 58% approved of the job he is doing in Washington, D.C.

At the state level, 43% of the business leaders participating in the survey approve of the job being done by Governor Tom Corbett, 42% disapprove.  That is a seven percent erosion from the governor’s Spring rating when 50% approved of his job performance and 32% disapproved.  Among the three statewide constitutional or “row” officers, only Attorney General Kathleen Kane drew strong opinions.  Forty-five percent disapprove of her job performance while 17% approve.  State Treasurer Rob McCord registered a 13% negative rating against a 6% positive rating; but 81% offered no opinion of his job performance.  Likewise, 78% had no opinion of the job performance of state Auditor General Eugene Depasquale.  Of those that did, 17% disapprove of his performance in office; 5% approve.

Business CEOs/owners also disapprove of the job being done by congress and by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  Ninety percent voiced a negative opinion of the U.S. Senate, only 4% offered a positive assessment.  Seventy-six percent disapprove of the job being done by the U.S. House of Representatives; 18% approve.  State government fared a bit better.  Sixty percent offered a negative view of the job being done by the state Senate, 17% approve.  Fifty-six percent disapprove of the performance of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 20% approve.

State Policy Issues

The collapse of Governor Tom Corbett’s legislative agenda at the end of the Spring session resulted in considerable finger pointing over who was to blame. The Lincoln Institute’s 2013 Keystone Business Climate Survey found more blame assigned to the legislature than to the governor.  Fifty-seven percent said the state Senate is to blame for the failure of the governor’s agenda; 56% blame the state House.  The governor himself is blamed by 43% of the respondents.  Going forward, 45% expect there will be action on transportation funding as the Fall legislative session gets underway.  Thirty-seven percent think the General Assembly will act on pension reform, 35% expect movement on privatizing the state’s liquor stores.

In terms of transportation funding, 80% report there have been no disruptions to their business as a result of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation placing weight limits on a number of bridges due to structural deficiencies.  However, 11% report having to adjust delivery routes and 7% have had shipping and/or deliveries disrupted.  Six percent report that employee commutes have been affected.  To fund repairs to state roads and bridges, 59% of the CEOs/business owners surveyed said they favor shift money from other parts of the state budget; 57% support diverting funds from low priority projects.  Twenty-six percent support raising license and/or registration fees; 12% say taxes should be increased.  Another 20% want to hold transportation spending at current levels.

There is a carve out in current state law that permits labor unions and businesses to stalk, harass, or threaten to use a weapon of mass destruction during a labor dispute.  Eighty-four percent of the business leaders said they disapprove of this carve out, 80% strongly disapprove.  Three percent said they agree with the carve out, while 13% offered no opinion.

Current law allows governmental entities (state, counties, school districts & municipalities) to deduct labor union dues and PAC (Political Action Committee) contributions from employee paychecks and turn over the proceeds to unions.  Eighty-nine percent of those participating in the 2013 Keystone Business Climate Survey disapprove of the practice and say unions should collect their own dues. Three percent support the practice.

As the debate continues over reforming Pennsylvania’s public employee pension systems, 85% of the business CEOs/owners said state government should transition to a defined contributions system.  Four percent favor retaining the current defined benefits system.

Methodology

The Lincoln Institute’s Fall 2013 Keystone Business Climate Survey was conducted electronically from September 9, 2013 through September 23, 2013.  A total of 306 business leaders responded of which 78% were the owner of the company, 17% work as a CEO/COO/CFO; 2% are a local manger and 1% a state manager.  Results included a representative sample from all geographic regions of Pennsylvania.  Complete numeric results of the poll are available on-line at www.lincolninstitute.org

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