Posts Tagged poll

Gas, Booze and Feral Swine


By Lowman S. Henry

State government is facing another difficult budget, a critical junction in the liquor privatization debate, a looming pension crisis along with crumbling roads and bridges. So it provided a bit of comic relief at a recent gathering of the Pennsylvania Press Club when Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati was asked to comment on state regulations regarding feral swine. This had nothing to do with the public’s apparent view of government, but rather the concerns of agri-business in the senator’s rural home district.

For his part, the top senate Republican sought to deflect attention from current pressing issues by talking about the past. In his prepared remarks Senator Scarnati lauded the success of the state’s approach to acquiring more revenue from drillers in the Marcellus Shale gas region. A new law requiring an impact fee (a euphemism for additional taxes) seems to have struck a delicate balance between obtaining that revenue while not making continued development of the resource unprofitable.

To some degree the senator is correct about the success of the legislation. Nobody is really happy about the law, but everyone can live with it. Energy companies are now paying a tax not required of other businesses in the state, but there is a general feeling within the industry that it could have been much worse. The spending interests got additional revenue, although they feel the energy companies should pay more. Townships got financial help in dealing with the impact on infrastructure of gas development, but ceded – perhaps unconstitutionally – some of their zoning power to the state.

Senator Scarnati told the assembled media that it took two years for the state to “get it right” on Marcellus Shale, and that it shouldn’t be expected to do the same on liquor privatization in just a few weeks. He was referring to Governor Tom Corbett’s desire to accomplish reform of the state’s Soviet-style liquor system by the end of June. The senator, however, was engaged in spin. The current liquor debate began years ago when House Republican Leader Mike Turzai assumed his leadership post and pronounced it his top goal. Incoming Governor Corbett stated the same. Thus, the senate has had two and a half years to gear up for a vote on the issue.

Turzai accomplished one of the greatest legislative feats in recent state history by getting a reasonable liquor reform bill through the House. It has landed in the lap of senate Republicans who view it as the political equivalent of Kryptonite. And they have good reason to be wary. Liquor privatization has overwhelming public support and is a top priority of a governor badly in need of a political win. If Senate Republicans kill the bill, they will – despite Senator Scarnati’s assertion to the contrary – seriously wound the governor politically, alienate House leaders who they need to pass their own legislative agenda, and – worst of all – offend a large section of the electorate.

Adding to the political significance of the situation is the fact Republicans lost three state senate seats in 2012 and now hold just 27 seats in a 50-seat chamber. With all southeastern Pennsylvania GOP senators except Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi up for re-election next year the long standing senate Republican majority is in jeopardy.

The counterweight to liquor reform is, of course, the public sector labor unions. Many of the senators up for re-election next year have been heavily supported by those unions. Thus, on this issue, they find themselves torn among their constituencies. Nobody is on the hot seat more than Senator Charles McIlhinney of Bucks County. He chairs the Law and Justice Committee which is holding hearings on the bill. As such, he wields considerable influence over the outcome of the liquor debate. Internal Bucks County politics, including the fact one of the senator’s biggest supporters owns a major beer distributorship, has complicated the situation further.

This much is clear: liquor privatization will be a career defining – perhaps career ending – vote for some Republican senators. A failure to pass a bill that tops the legislative agenda of both the Governor and the House Republican Leader could be the equivalent of pulling the bottom card out of a house of cards. Failure on liquor reform will hurt the governor’s re-election chances; poison the well for legislative cooperation on other issues; alienate voters and perhaps bring about a crushing GOP defeat at the polls next November.

There could hardly be more riding on the outcome of this debate. Not just for senate Republicans, but for Governor Tom Corbett, the Republican Party and for the people of Pennsylvania who would like to see their prohibition-era system of wine & spirits sales finally brought into the 21st Century.

 

(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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Treading Water: PA business owners/CEOs don’t see economic recovery


Although many key economic indicators are pointing to a slowly improving economy, employers in Pennsylvania say – at best – the state’s business climate is stagnant. More report lower employment levels than increased levels; and more businesses say over the past six months sales have declined rather than increased. Looking ahead six months, there is little expectation for a significant improvement in economic conditions.

Results of the Spring 2013 Keystone Business Climate Survey of business owners and Chief Executive Officers found by a two-to-one margin they say business conditions in the state have gotten worse over the past six months rather than better. Thirty-five percent said that business conditions in Pennsylvania have gotten worse, 17% say they have improved, 47% said business conditions remained about the same. Those numbers track almost exactly results of the 2012 Spring survey indicating the state’s economy has made little progress over the past year. Looking ahead, 33% expect business conditions to get worse, 19% say they expect some improvement, 47% expect conditions to remain about the same.

The business leaders surveyed continue to report declining employment levels. Twenty-seven percent said employment levels at their company are lower than six months ago, while 9% report having more employees. Sixty-two percent say their employment levels have remained about the same. The employment picture is worse than a year ago when 13% of the employers said they have increased their employee compliments and 20% reported a decrease. Looking ahead, 15% say they expect to increase the number of employees at their business, 17% are planning on a workforce reduction. Sixty-five percent say employment to remain about the same.

Sales are another area of concern. Forty-seven percent of the CEOs responding to the Lincoln Institute survey said sales have dropped over the past six months, while 17% reported an increase in sales. Another 36% said sales have remained steady. These numbers are considerably more negative than those reported last spring when 35% reported decreased sales and 28% reported a sales upswing. Looking ahead there is a bit of optimism: 27% expect sales to increase while 19% forecast declining sales.

Job Approval Ratings

President Barack Obama continues to be highly unpopular among Pennsylvania’s business leaders. Twelve percent offered a positive view of his job performance, while 84% disapproved. The job approval rating of Pennsylvania’s two U.S. Senators are going in opposite directions. U.S. Senator Pat Toomey’s positive job approval jumped from 47% last spring to 58% in the current survey, while his negative rating dropped from 23% last year to 19% this year. Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.’s negative rating increased from 62% last spring to 69% this year. His positive job approval also increased from 11% last spring to 14% in the current poll.

At the state level, Governor Tom Corbett’s job approval rating remains steady. Fifty percent give him positive reviews, up from 48% last year. His current negative number is 32%, exactly where it was one year ago. Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s first job approval test resulted in a 21% positive – 28% negative rating. New Auditor General Eugene Depasquale’s inaugural numbers found a 9% positive – 14% negative rating. State Treasurer Rob McCord weighed in with a 13% positive – 14% negative rating.

As for legislative bodies, respondents to the survey gave the U.S. Senate a 95% negative rating with only 3% having a positive view of the upper chamber. Seventy-one percent hold a negative view of the U.S. House of Representatives while 23% give them a positive rating. At the state level, approval of the job being done by the House of Representatives has increased over the past year: 32% now approve of the state House up from 20% last Spring, but 48% hold a negative view of that chamber. Fifty-four percent disapprove of the job being done by the Pennsylvania Senate, while 25% approve.

State Issues

Governor Tom Corbett has outlined an ambitious legislative agenda, with privatization of the state’s monopoly liquor stores at the top of the list. The business owners and Chief Executive Officers responding to the Lincoln Institute’s Spring 2013 Keystone Business Climate Survey are in strong agreement with the governor that the time for privatization has arrived. Eighty-five percent indicated their support of ending the liquor monopoly and placing distribution and retail sales of shine and spirits into private hands. Of that number, 65% said they “strongly approve” of the Corbett plan. Twelve percent expressed their opposition.

Support for the governor’s other privatization plan, that to remove administrative operations of the Pennsylvania Lottery from government employees and place them into private hands received less support, but 53% did agree with privatizing lottery operations. Twenty-eight percent expressed opposition and 19% offered no opinion.

The controversial decision by Governor Corbett to not set up a state-based Medicaid health care exchange under provisions of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) drew support from 65% of the business leaders polled with 25% in disagreement and ten percent offering no opinion. To date, 62% said they have had to take no steps to comply with provisions of the act, while 15% reported having to increase employee co-pay to cover additional costs; 10% have cut staff or reduced hours; 8% have raised their prices and 5% have discontinued offering health care coverage to their employees.

A number of public employee retirement systems, ranging from those covering state employees to school districts and municipalities, are projected to experience a significant shortfall in funding in the near future. To deal with that, respondents to the Lincoln Institute survey said governments should require higher employee contributions (77%), cut benefits to retirees (57%), divert spending from other areas to cover the shortfall (25%), or raise taxes to cover the shortfall (4%). Eight percent suggested all of the above mentioned steps should be taken to deal with the problem.

Governor Corbett has proposed lifting the cap on the Oil Company Franchise Tax to raise additional state revenue for spending on transportation infrastructure improvements including roads and bridges.   Fifty-seven percent of the business owners/CEOs said they agree with that idea while 38% disagree. But, when asked if lifting that cap would result in an increase of the cost of gasoline at the pump of over 20 cents per gallon, support for the plan dropped to 28% while opposition increased to 69%. Of that 69% who disagreed, 47% expressed strong disagreement.

To provide additional funding for infrastructure, eighty-eight percent said the state should cut administrative overhead; 45% opined that spending in other areas should be cut and diverted to transportation; 30% would raise driver license renewal feels; 19% would raise gasoline taxes and 5% would raise general fund taxes. Fifteen percent said the funding crisis is overblown and no additional funds are needed.

As the governor and the general assembly work toward adoption of a 2013-2014 state budget, 56% of the business leaders participating in the Spring 2013 Keystone Business Climate Survey said state spending is too high and spending levels should be cut further. Thirty-seven percent said the current levels of spending are appropriate while 4% suggested state government should increase taxes and spending.

Federal Issues

In the debate over enactment of additional restrictions on the sale and purchase of firearms 31% said they would support additional restrictions, with 11% saying they strongly support additional restrictions. But, 68% said they oppose the placement of additional restrictions on the sale and purchase of firearms with 50% being in strong opposition to such additional restrictions.

Automatic federal spending cuts, official known as sequestration, took effect the beginning of March. Eighty percent of the businesses said the federal spending cuts have had no impact on their business. Twelve percent indicated sequestration had negatively impacted their business while 3% said the cuts have had a positive impact.

There has been much discussion and debate over the rising national debt. Ninety percent of the business owners/CEOs said the rising national debt will have a negative impact on the U.S. economy with 77% predicting a significantly negative impact. Five percent suggested the rising national debt will have a positive impact on the economy while 4% predict no impact at all.

Methodology

The Spring 2013 Keystone Business Climate Survey was conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. from March 8, 2013 through April 5, 2013. A total of 260 business leaders participated in the electronic survey. Of that number 80% were the owner of the business; 15% serve as CEO/COO/CFO; 2% are a local manager and 1% a state manager. Complete numeric results are available at www.lincolninstitute.org.

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: ROC Exposed


Radio Program Schedule for the week of February 9, 2013 – February 15, 2013

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with David Pasch of Generation Opportunity about high unemployment among 18-29 year olds
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story behind the dust-up between the mainstream Crossroads PAC and conservative groups
  • Adam Tragone and Neil McCabe of Human Events have an Off the Cuff talk about the latest immigration reform proposals
  • Col. Frank Ryan, USMC (Retired) has an American Radio Journal commentary on greed

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm and Melissa Daniels have news headlines from www.paindependent.com
  • Lowman Henry has a Newsmaker interview with Allison Harden from ROC Exposed about the labor front group Restaurant Opportunities Center
  • Eric Montarti and Frank Gamrat have an Allegheny Institute Report on the cost and benefits of municipal government
  • Jennifer Stefano talks about privatizing the state’s liquor store in her Stefano Speaks commentary

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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A Lump of Coal for Charities?–‘Fiscal cliff’ talks threatened Federal charitable tax deduction


The stubbornly sluggish economic recovery has created a perfect storm of bad economic news for the state’s charitable nonprofit sector. During times of economic distress funds dip as individuals and foundations see their fortunes decline. At the same time, the demand for services escalates as unemployment and related social ills soar. State and county governments, also caught in a vice between escalating demand and the inability to increase taxes on financially stressed taxpayers, cut funding to social service and charitable organizations.

And the problem could be about to get worse, much worse. One of the items on the table in the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations in Washington, D.C. is the scaling back or elimination of the Federal tax deduction for charitable contributions. While it is true many Americans give out of an innate sense of charity, with the income tax deduction being a secondary consideration, the deductibility of contributions does have an impact on whether or not a charitable contribution is made and how many dollars are given.

The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO) recently conducted the annual Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey.  Seventy-five percent of the respondents said the loss of the Federal tax deduction for charitable contributions would have a negative effect on their organization – 40% said the effect would be “significant.”   Conversely, just 10% felt the loss of the deduction would have no effect, and 2% predicted a positive effect.

Business Climate

Despite the challenging environment in which they are operating, there was an increase in the number of charitable organizations that report their ability to fulfill their core mission has improved over the past year. Seventeen percent say they have a greater ability to carry out their core mission compared to the 11% who felt that way in 2011. In the current poll, 55% reported their ability to fulfill their core mission has remained about the same as last year, while 26% felt they have less ability to fulfill their core mission. That is down from the 31% who last year reported less ability.

Generally speaking, the nonprofit organizations participating in the Lincoln Institute/PANO poll felt business conditions in Pennsylvania have remained about the same over the past year. That, however, is not good news as the business climate for charities has been challenging in recent years. Despite that, 21% of the respondents said business conditions in the commonwealth have improved over the past year; that is up from just 8% who reported improving business conditions a year ago. Also, 24% said they felt the state’s business climate has gotten worse over the past twelve months; that is down from the 40% reporting a worsening business climate last year.

A further ray of optimism was reflected in responses to the question: Looking ahead one year, do you expect business conditions to be better, about the same or worse than they are today? Thirty-four percent said they expect business conditions in the state to improve over the coming year – that is up from the 27% who forecast an improving economic climate last year. Nineteen percent expect the state’s business climate to get worse, down from the 26% who last year predicted declining business conditions.   Forty-seven percent said they expect the state’s business climate to remain about the same over the coming year. Again, “about the same” means continuation of a business climate that is not favorable.

The Lincoln/PANO poll also found employment levels at Pennsylvania Nonprofits have declined over the past year. Fifty-six percent of the nonprofits participating in the survey said employment levels at their entity were about the same as a year ago. But, 26% said they employ fewer people than a year ago, while 18% reported more people on payroll.   Looking ahead, 21% forecast rising employment levels, while 13% expect employment at their nonprofit to drop.

Impact of a Sluggish Economy

The lingering economic downturn has had a negative impact on 82% of the nonprofits participating in the 2012 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey. Of that number, 25% said the negative impact on them has been “significant.” Twelve percent said the economic downturn has had no impact on them, while 6% said the bad economy has positively affected them.

Economic conditions have caused 26% of the nonprofits surveyed to cut services, while 24% say they have increased services as a result of the poor economy. Exactly half said their level of service has remained about the same over the past year. Thirty-eight percent of the nonprofits say they have cancelled or postponed expansion plans to deal with economic conditions. Thirty-two percent have had to lay-off staff; 29% have reduced employee hours; 27% have had to borrow operating money; 27% have cut or eliminated benefits; and 10% have cut salaries.

Looking ahead over the coming year, 48% participating in the Lincoln Institute/PANO poll said funding for their organization remained about the same in 2012 as it was in 2011. Twenty-six percent of the entities experienced a funding decline this year, while 21% saw an increase in revenue. Forty-two percent of the respondents report state funding has decreased over the past year, 18% said funding they receive from the state has remained about the same, while state funding has increased at just 3% of the nonprofits. Thirty-seven percent said they don’t receive or utilize state funding.

Sector Issues

Sixty-three percent of the poll’s respondents rated public trust in the nonprofit sector as “medium.”   Twenty-one percent rated public trust as “high,” while 11% said public trust levels were low. Looking back over the past couple of years, 45% said public trust was about the same, 28% said trust in such institutions is lower; 22% said trust levels are higher.

Given that many nonprofits receive some part of their funding from government, a number of entities engage in lobbying activities.   Just 6% of the respondents are registered under provisions of the Pennsylvania Lobbying Disclosure Act. But, 28% say they lobbied state government over the past year. Nineteen percent report having lobbied at the federal or county level, and 15% lobbied at the local level during the past twelve months. Looking ahead 29% say they expect to lobby government at some level on a public policy issue over the coming year, 51% do not expect to lobby.

Eighty percent of those participating in the Lincoln/PANO poll said they currently provide health insurance for their employees. Of that number, 48% report that the major portion of premiums is paid by the employer with some employee co-pay. Thirty-two percent reported the entire health care premium is covered by the employer.

The property tax exemption for nonprofits continues to face challenges by county and municipal governments. However, just 8% of those participating in the 2012 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey say they have had their property tax status challenged over the past two years. But, 20% are concerned that county or municipal government may challenge their status in coming years.

Methodology

The 2012 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey was conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO). The poll was conducted electronically between December 3, 2012 and December 17, 2012. A total of 289 nonprofit organizations participated in the survey.   Complete numeric results are available on-line here.

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PA GOP National Convention Delegation: Government An Adversarial Force


Ninety-eight percent of delegation is conservative, just 2% moderate

“Our rights come from nature and God, not from government. That’s who we are. That’s how we built this country. That’s who we are. That’s what made us great. That’s our founding. We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.”

Those were among the first words spoken by Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin upon becoming Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate. Those few sentences cut to the core principles upon which America was founded and resonated with a Republican Party base longing to rekindle the fervor of the Reagan years.

A Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research survey of Pennsylvania Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the Republican National Convention found Ryan’s words struck a chord. Ninety-eight percent of those responding to the survey agreed that our basic rights as Americans are God-given, while just 2% felt such rights were granted by government.

The Pennsylvania delegation also strongly views the Federal government as part of the problem, not part of the solution, with 90% saying the federal government is an adversarial force, and the rest believing the federal government is a positive force.

National Issues

In terms of the issues facing our nation, Pennsylvania’s Republican National Convention delegation rated the most serious problems as: the economy, federal government spending, federal budget deficit, Obamacare, and the unemployment rate.   Rated as the least serious issues were global warming, gay marriage, the mortgage/banking crisis, the war in Afghanistan, and abortion.

Pennsylvania’s GOP delegates/alternate delegates were strongly united in their view that the Obama Administration’s foreign policies have made the United States less secure with 89% holding that opinion. Even more, 92% disapproved of the President’s handling of the war in Afghanistan. There is less agreement on two other pressing foreign policy issues. Seventy-three percent think the United States should intervene militarily in Syria, but 28% disagree. Sixty-one percent believe America should intervene militarily to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, with 39% in disagreement.

On no issue, however, is there more agreement among the delegation than on the economy. Unanimously, 100% view the economy as off in the wrong direction. And, 93% place the blame squarely on President Barack Obama. Sixty-one percent also fault congress, and 59% place blame on the Federal Reserve. Twenty-six percent hold former President George W. Bush culpable for the nation’s economic ills.

Speaking of the former president, 70% of Pennsylvania’s Republican National Convention delegation believes the Bush-era tax rates should be made permanent for all Americans regardless of income. Nine percent want the tax rates made permanent for families earning under $250,000 per year. Another 13% think the Bush era tax rates should be temporarily extended for all Americans. Only 4% support reinstating the pre-Bush tax cut rates. The delegation is split over the future of the payroll (Social Security) tax cuts. Forty-eight percent favors extending the Obama payroll tax cuts, 52% oppose any extension. Wide agreement returns among the delegates on the subject of cutting rates on capital gains, with 83% supporting such cuts. Eighty-nine percent supports eliminating the estate or “death tax” entirely, while 7% favor cutting the rate.   Ninety-three percent of the delegation supports lowering personal income tax rates as a means of stimulating economic growth.

Spending cuts are the weapon of choice for balancing the federal budget. Seventy-four percent of Pennsylvania’s delegation to the 2012 Republican National Convention favors spending cuts only to reduce the deficit. Another 26% support a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes. Not a single respondent supported only raising taxes to reduce the deficit. There is also strong opposition to raising the U.S. government’s debt ceiling. Ninety-six percent oppose raising it. Unanimity among the delegates was also achieved on the issue of allowing younger Americans to invest a portion of their Social funds in personal savings accounts outside the current Social Security system, with 100% in agreement. Sixty-seven percent think Social Security will be around for future generations of Americans, but with substantial changes. Thirty-four percent believe the system is headed for bankruptcy.

Seventy percent of the delegation supports term limits on members of Congress, while 30% oppose term limits. A sizable majority of the delegation, 81%, also believes that earmarks, or specific spending directed by Members of Congress, are wasteful spending. Twenty-three percent feel earmarks are an appropriate way to allocate funds.

State Issues

The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research also asked the Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention their views on a range of state issues.

On the subject of taxes, 58% said that the state personal income tax rate is too high, 39% say it is about right, and 6% say personal income tax rates are too low. However, 92% of the respondents said business taxes are too high, and 8% said they are about right. Nobody thought business taxes were too low. Seventy-five percent said they would not support an increase in the state gasoline tax to fund infrastructure (highway) improvements. Twenty-five percent would back higher taxes for that purpose. Sixty-percent also oppose an increase in vehicle registration and/or driver license fees for highway improvements. Forty percent said they could support increasing fees for such a purpose.

Seventy-one percent of the delegation said they feel the property tax-based system currently utilized by school districts, counties and local government to fund services is unfair to most segments of their community. Twenty-nine percent see property taxes as fair. Fifty percent of the delegates/alternate delegates participating in the poll said they would favor a more broad based state sales tax at the current rate as a means of replacing real estate or property taxes. Twenty-six percent said they would support replacing property taxes with a combination of local sales and earned income taxes while 18% percent would back local sales taxes only. Another 13% would support increasing the state sales tax rate to replace property taxes.

In terms of public education; 65% of the delegation feel the Corbett Administration’s cuts in K-12 public education are about right; 19% say they are not deep enough and 17% say the cuts are too deep. Eighty-six percent of the delegation supports the concept of school choice when that involves giving vouchers or grants so that students can attend a public school in a district other than their own.

There is also concern over the level of the Commonwealth’s indebtedness. Ninety-six percent of the state’s delegation to the 2012 Republican National Convention believes the commonwealth’s debt load is currently too high. Another four percent say debt levels are about right. When it comes to Pennsylvania’s general fund budget, 63% say overall state spending is too high, 35% believe it is about right, and 2% say it is too low.

Labor power issues have been at the top of the agenda in many states. Ninety-six percent of Pennsylvania’s national convention delegates and alternates support enactment of a Right to Work law, meaning that a worker cannot be fired or kept from having a job for either joining or not joining a labor union. Eighty percent support a ban on allowing public school teachers to strike.

Finally, there was unanimous opinion behind a proposal to privatize the state’s liquor store system. Eighty-four percent of the delegation strongly supports such a ban, with 16% somewhat in favor.

Ideology

When asked their political ideology, not a single member of the Pennsylvania Delegation to the Republican National Convention admitted to being a liberal, with just one claiming to be a moderate. Ninety-eight percent of the delegation labeled themselves conservative, with 58% saying there are very conservative.

Methodology

The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. conducted its survey of Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention electronically from August 14, 2012 thru August 22, 2012. A total of 56 members of the delegation participated in the poll. Complete numeric results are available on-line at www.lincolninstitute.org

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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.

Reform

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.

Methodology

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 www.lincolninstitute.org.

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Keystone Business Climate Survey Results


Radio Program Schedule for the week of April 28, 2012 – May 1, 2012

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Tony Woodlief of the Bill of Rights Institute on educating young Americans about the U.S. Constitution
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story behind why Blue Dog Democrats are disappearing from congress
  • Adam Tragone, Managing Editor of Human Events talks with the paper’s Political Editor John Gizzi about the impact of the French presidential election on the U.S.
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA has an American Radio Journal commentary on what Mitt Romney must do to win the enthusiastic backing of conservatives

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm of www.paindependent.com has news headlines
  • David Taylor of the PA Manufacturers Association and Kevin Shivers from the PA Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business discuss results of the Lincoln Institute’s Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey
  • Lowman Henry has a Town Hall Commentary on why the GOP should ditch its endorsement process

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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