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‘Tis the season when many Americans donate to their favorite charity. While leaders in the nonprofit sector remain firm in their conviction that they are best suited to deal with Pennsylvania’s social and economic challenges they are concerned that public trust in charities is not as high as it should be. Those are among the findings of the 2016 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey conducted during the month of November by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO).
Among the participating nonprofits just ten percent said that public trust in charities is “high,” while 77% rated public trust as “medium.” Nine percent felt public trust in charities currently is “low.” Twenty-two percent of the nonprofit executives said the level of public trust in charities has gotten better over the past few years, but 31% said it has gotten worse.
Having said that, the nonprofit leaders feel their sector is best positioned to address Pennsylvania’s social and economic challenges. Forty-five percent identified their own sector as best suited to address those needs; 22% think state government is most effective; while 6% cite the for-profit sector. Just three percent said the federal or municipal governments can best handle those challenges.
“Public trust,” said Anne Gingerich, Executive Director of PANO, “is critical to the sustainability of any business – nonprofit, for-profit or government. When one nonprofit fails to live up to the highest standards it can damage the reputation of all.” She continued: “Unfortunately these stories overshadow the hundreds of nonprofits who give selflessly to ensure that lives are changed, not just during the holidays, but all year long.”
Like their counterparts in the for-profit world, leaders in Pennsylvania’s nonprofit sector say business conditions in the state have gotten worse over the past year rather than better. Concerns over potential new federal regulations and the growing likelihood of another extended state budget stalemate feed concerns that the commonwealth’s business climate will continue to deteriorate during the year ahead.
The survey found 15% of the nonprofit executives view business conditions in Penn’s Woods over the past year as having improved, 22% say business conditions have gotten worse. The majority – 63% – say the state’s economy has remained about the same. But “about the same” is not good as business confidence, whether for-profit or nonprofit, has been low for the past two years.
By comparison, a September 2016 survey of owners/chief executive officers of for-profit businesses found only five percent saying the state’s economy has improved in recent months while 50% said it had gotten worse.
Looking ahead, a third of the nonprofit leaders expect the state’s business climate to get worse while 22% predict it will get better. Forty-four percent say the Pennsylvania business climate will remain about the same during 2017.
Despite their overall pessimism about the direction of the commonwealth’s economy, employment was up at a quarter of the nonprofits, and down at 16%. That could be explained in part by some nonprofits stepping up hiring after having cut back staff during the budget stalemate of two years ago. However, looking ahead 22% say they expect to add employees while 14% predict staffing cuts.
Hanging over all sectors of the economy including nonprofits are U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulations that would increase the minimum salary requirements for “white collar” workers from $23,600 to $47,476 per year. The effect would be a significant increase in overtime costs. This is perhaps more significant for the nonprofit sector in that employees at many smaller nonprofits view their jobs as being community service as much as employment and often put in hours well in excess of those for which there are paid.
The 2016 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey found that the new regulations would increase payroll costs at 43% of the responding organizations as well as increase the amount of time spent tracking employee hours. The regulations are now on hold due to a federal court ruling, but should they go into effect 30% of the nonprofits surveyed said they would have to cut staff to pay for the increased costs of complying with the regulations; 11% would have to cut services and another 16% would respond by seeking additional volunteer help.
Pennsylvania’s nonprofit organizations were among those most significantly impacted by the lengthy state budget stalemate of two years ago. In light of that experience, 68% would support putting into place legislation that would incentivize lawmakers to adopt a state budget in a timely manner. Sixty-eight percent (some with board approval) said they would support legislation that would progressively penalize state lawmakers for missing the state budget deadline, with penalties increasing for each day past the June 30th deadline.
PANO’s Gingerich said nonprofit support of legislation penalizing lawmakers for budget stalemates is not surprising. “Not only clients suffer as a result of the impasse, but nonprofits themselves had to lay off staff and borrow money to continue operations. As partners with state government in providing mandated services, nonprofits should ask to be at the budget negotiation table.”
Unlike executives in the for-profit sector, nonprofit leaders are open to supporting a wide range of tax hikes. Thirty-seven percent said they would support an increase in the state’s Personal Income Tax (PIT), while 22% said they would not. Another 41% offer no opinion on the question. Likewise 43% would support imposing a new natural gas drilling tax of up to 6.5% specifically to support human services. Thirteen percent would oppose such a tax, and 43% offered no opinion. Similar support levels were voiced for the imposition of a new public health tax (ie: sugar tax, soda tax) of 1.5 cents per ounce dedicated to human services. The highest level of support – 50% – is for dedicating a portion of taxes generated by Pennsylvania’s gaming industry to support human services.
Despite their overall negative assessment of the direction of Pennsylvania’s business climate, more of the nonprofits participating in the 2016 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey said funding for this calendar year has increased than have seen decreases. A third of the nonprofits said funding is up, a quarter reporting funding has dropped and 43% said their funding levels have remained about the same. Looking ahead to 2017 about half of the nonprofits predict funding levels at their organization will remain static; 30% say they expect funding to increase; 20% are braced for funding to decrease.
By a two-to-one margin nonprofits have seen state funding levels decrease over the past five years. Twenty-one percent said funding from the state had dropped during that period of time while ten percent saw an increase in state funding. The other half of the organizations said funding from state government has remained about the same. Likewise there has been a slight drop in federal funding. Sixteen percent said their organization’s funding from the federal government has dropped over the past five years, 12% said federal funds have increased. Federal funding remained about the same at the remaining 45% of organizations surveyed.
Property tax exemption challenges remain a concern at some nonprofit organizations. Seven percent report having had their property tax exemption challenged over the past two years and 13% are concerned their municipal or county government may challenge their exemption next year.
Nonprofit organizations are not participating in lobbying activities in a major way. Just six percent say they have someone from their organization registered as a lobbyist under the Pennsylvania Lobbying Disclosure Act. Twenty-two percent have lobbied on a public policy issue at some level of government over the past year. Twenty-seven percent expect to lobby government at some level during the coming year. Gingerich urged nonprofits to engage in more lobbying activities. “Nonprofits must understand that not only can they lobby, but they are not doing their jobs if they do not. Together, the collective voice of the nonprofit sector has powerful, yet untapped power.”
The 2016 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey was electronically conducted during the month of November 2016. A total of 177 nonprofit organizations responded to the survey invitation. Complete numeric results are available at http://www.lincolninstitute.org.
Tax policy received scant attention in the presidential debates, but when it did both candidates displayed a serious lack of understanding regarding at least one critical component of the tax code: carried interest. Although arcane in nature and unheard of by most, carried interest is a tax rule that fosters capital formation, encourages investment and ultimately leads to job creation.
Simply put, carried interest is a type of capital gain. Homeowners are familiar with the term ‘capital gain’ which in that circumstance refers to the increase in value of your home over time as you make improvements or rising market prices increase its sale price. If you sell your principle residence and make more than $500,000 in profit as a married couple, you must pay a capital gains tax. You pay the capital gains tax rate, not the ordinary income tax rate, on the transaction because you have already paid taxes on the income used to purchase the house.
Likewise carried interest is a long-term capital gain that is earned by an investment partnership. In this case the asset is not a house, but an investment portfolio that the partnership established and grew over time. When sold, the portfolio manager pays a lower capital gains tax rate on the fund’s profit, not the higher ordinary income tax rate.
The presidential candidates have, unfortunately, decided to portray carried interest capital gains as a loophole granted to special interests. Both candidates want to raise this capital gains rate claiming it gives investment fund managers an unfair tax break. Fairness, however, is not what such an increase would achieve. Rather it would amount to double taxation.
The negative effects would be much worse than over-taxing a sub-set of taxpayers. The partnerships that are formed when an investor joins with a fund manager results in a structure that fosters informed investments that grow over time. This growth generates profits. When the profits are re-invested that is called capital. Such capital is invested in businesses so that they can grow, expand and create jobs.
Carried interest capital gain rules play a critical role in allowing capital to form. If you raise the carried interest capital gain tax rate, the government will take more in taxes–dramatically decreasing the amount of capital available for investment in the economy.
A significant portion of that capital available for investment is invested right here in Pennsylvania. According to the American Investment Council, private equity firms invested an estimated $24.49 billion in Pennsylvania-based companies in 2015. There are 143 private equity firms headquartered in Pennsylvania. These companies support more than 185,103 workers at facilities both in Pennsylvania and in other states.
In other words, carried interest capital gains is not a tax device aimed at making Wall Street fund managers richer. Rather, it is appropriate taxation that makes more capital available for investment in the companies that are creating much needed new jobs for Pennsylvanians and elsewhere.
It is common in an election year for candidates to propose new government spending programs in an effort to win votes. They then go looking for ways to pay for that higher spending. “Reforming” the nation’s complex tax structure is often an effective target.
But, changes can have unintended consequences. Raising the current 23.8% carried interest rate to 33% as proposed by Donald Trump or almost 50% as suggested by Hillary Clinton would result in only a modest increase in tax revenue flowing into the federal treasury. And we all know that any move to raise this rate would likely be coupled with other tax hikes on working families and small businesses.
Even if you set aside the unfairness of double taxing investors, raising the carried interest tax rate or eliminating that category of capital gain entirely would have the detrimental effect of reducing capital formation. That means dramatically fewer dollars available for companies to grow and create new jobs. Carried interest is not a tax break for the wealthy; rather it is a way for investors to put their earnings to work creating the new jobs needed as the nation struggles to recover from the Great Recession.
Lowman S. Henry is Chairman and CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is email@example.com
Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.
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.
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.
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
2016 Republican Delegate/Alternate Delegate Survey: Supreme Court, Terrorist, Constitutional Rights Top Delegate Concerns
Pennsylvania’s delegation to the 2016 Republican National Convention rated U.S. Supreme Court nominations, terrorism and protecting constitutional rights as the most important issues facing the nation while viewing the GOP-controlled congress as having failed to effectively counter the policies of President Barack Obama.
The Lincoln Institute’s quadrennial survey of delegates and alternate delegates found economic issues outweighed social issues and foreign affairs in their selection of a presidential candidate, but 60% said a combination of all three issue sets factored into their decision.
That was reflected in the importance given to the various issues facing the nation. No social issues topped the delegation’s list of important issues. A clear concern over fundamental rights emerged from the survey data as the selection of nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court topped the importance scale with 90% saying the seating of justices was a very important issue. Concerns over ISIS/terrorism rated as second most important, but protecting constitutional rights followed closely as the delegation’s third most important area of concern. Jobs and the economy, the budget deficit/government spending and illegal immigration rounded out the top concerns.
Pennsylvania’s delegation hues to traditional Republican positions on President Obama’s job performance. Eighty-seven percent say his administration’s foreign policies have made the United States much less secure; only one delegate thought those policies have made the nation more secure. When asked if President Obama was on the right track or wrong track in responding to the threat of ISIS and international terrorism there was unanimity – 100% said wrong track. Until the threat of ISIS/terrorism has ended, 64% of the delegation thinks the U.S. should ban entry of citizens from countries that are hotbeds of terrorist activity; 26% want to ban all Muslims from entering the country; 13% say current laws are sufficient. Eighty-nine percent of the delegates/alternate delegates strongly disapprove of the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, another 8% somewhat disapprove. Only 3% expressed approval.
When asked if the U.S. economy is on the right track or off in the wrong direction 97% said wrong direction. Ninety-two percent of the Pennsylvania delegation to the Republican National Convention places the blame for the nation’s economic ills on President Obama, but majorities also fault labor unions and congress. There is strong support, 72% with another 26% somewhat supporting lowering tax rates as a means of stimulating economic growth.
The delegation, reflecting the views of its presumptive presidential nominee, opposes free trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Sixty-nine percent oppose TPP with 31% expressing strong opposition. In terms of balancing the federal budget, 79% would do so only by cutting spending; 21% would employ a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. Concern was voiced over the viability of the Social Security system: 57% think the system will be around for future generations – but only with substantial changes. Forty percent think Social Security is headed to bankruptcy; only 4% think it will survive without changes. To provide for the nation’s energy needs, 93% favor more domestic drilling as a solution; 50% support development of alternative fuels and 30% urge conservation.
Illegal immigration has been a dominate issue in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The Pennsylvania delegation to the Republican national convention reflects his stance on the issue. Fifty-six percent of the delegation wants immediate deportation of illegal aliens; 23% would accept granting permanent worker status. Not a single delegate favors granting illegal aliens full citizenship.
Also spurring Donald Trump’s march to the Republican Presidential nomination was grassroots frustration with the ineffectiveness of the party’s elected officials in Washington, D.C. Eighty percent of the Pennsylvania delegation said the Republican-controlled congress has been ineffective at checking President Obama’s executive power.
As a result, over two-thirds hold a negative view of the job being done by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
A strong anti-government thread is woven into the state’s delegation as 97% said they view the federal government as an adversarial force when it comes to helping solve problems. Only two delegates view the federal government as a positive force. Likewise, 97% say our basic rights as Americans are God-given; only two delegates view our rights as granted to us by government.
The Lincoln Institute’s survey of delegates/alternate delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention found 92% want Republicans in the general assembly to continue holding the line on more spending and higher taxes. Ironically, those views were expressed as the GOP-controlled legislature approved a state budget which dramatically increased spending and included a wide array of tax hikes. Ninety-six percent agree with the strategy – now abandoned by Republican legislative leaders – that cost drivers like pension reform should be addressed before the general assembly considers any increase in taxes.
Sixty-five percent of the delegation feels the property tax-based system currently utilized by school districts, local and county governments to fund services is unfair to taxpayers. There is little agreement though on how to otherwise raise revenue. Twenty percent favor a higher state sales tax rate while 16% would support a more broad based state sales tax at the current rate. There was nominal support for local sales taxes, local earned income taxes or a higher state income tax. On a related note, 61% favor allowing vouchers or grants to students who wish to attend a public school in a district other than their own, 32% do not.
Generally speaking, 60% of the delegates/alternate delegates think the state income tax rate is too high, another 41% say it is about right. Eighty-seven percent feel state business taxes are too high, only 13% think taxes on business are about right. When it comes to economic development, 96% favor having the state cut business taxes and regulation. Just 4% favor having the state borrow money to help select business ventures.
There is strong support among Pennsylvania’s delegation for a Right to Work Law, which means that a worker cannot be fired or kept from having a job for either joining or not joining a labor union. Eighty-five percent favor the adoption of a right to work law. On a related issue, 76% support enacting a ban on public school teacher strikes.
Pennsylvania’s delegation to the Republican National Convention is a very conservative one. Forty percent say they are very conservative, another 47% say they are somewhat conservative. Thirteen percent proclaimed themselves to be moderates, and one delegate adopted the very liberal/progressive title.
The delegation is skewed to higher age demographics. About a third are over the age of 65, another third between the ages of 50-65. Twenty-eight percent fall in the 30-50 age group, while only one respondent was under 30. Of the delegates responding to the survey invitation 62% are male, 38% female.
The Lincoln Institute survey of delegates/alternate delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention was conducted electronically between June 28 and July 14. 2016. A total of 73 delegates/alternate delegates participated in the survey. Complete numeric results are available on-line at www.lincolninstitute.org.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
Primary elections are the vehicle by which voters select their party’s nominees who then advance to the General Election to do battle with the opposing party. But, before voters even go to the polls the field has often already been narrowed by the party endorsement process or through pressure exerted on candidates to either drop out or enter the race. Then a wide range of special interests engage to influence the election’s outcome.
Many Pennsylvanians are unaware that the respective party caucuses in the General Assembly exert a significant amount of influence over who gets elected to that body, sometimes even more influence than the general voting public. Each of the four caucuses – senate Republican, senate Democrat, house Republican and house Democrat – have their own campaign committees which assist candidates seeking election to their respective chamber.
Party endorsements are widely publicized and touted by the candidates’ receiving them. But the heavy hand of the caucus campaign committees is less noticed, and often operates below the radar screen of both the news media and voters. The caucus campaign committees, to varying degrees, work to nominate in primaries the candidates of their choice, typically candidates expected to vote the way leadership wants after taking office. Some, like the house Republican Campaign Committee, take a relatively hands-off approach in open seat primaries, but do engage to help retain incumbents.
For decades the most successful caucus campaign committee has been that of senate Republicans which has resulted in long-term GOP domination of the upper chamber. Senate Republican leadership has, however, engaged much more aggressively than its house counterparts in determining who gets their party’s nomination. This has resulted in far less autonomy for individual senators and contributed to the fact the senate GOP has in recent years become out-of-step with the party’s conservative base, the house GOP and even their own governor.
But times are changing and the old way of doing business is not as effective as it once was. Much like voters are rejecting endorsements by the political parties, voters are proving to be less willing to go along with having their state Senate nominees selected in the backroom. In fact, the senate GOP leadership’s refusal to accept and adapt to this change in voter attitudes is on the verge of costing the party its long-term hold on the senate majority.
Last year Republicans lost three seats in the state senate, two in districts that should have been relatively safe for the party’s candidates. In all three instances the Senate Republican Campaign Committee (SRRC) exerted considerable influence over the nomination process. In Dauphin and Erie counties their preferred selections prevailed, but lost in the General Election. In Allegheny County, the caucus’s hand-pick candidate engaged in a highly negative campaign only to lose the nomination and in the process mortally wound the eventual nominee. As a result, the GOP majority in the senate has fallen from 30-20 to 27-23. Democrats are eyeing a take-over in 2014.
Senate Republicans are now at a crossroads. Three state senators have announced their retirements – all Republicans. One seat, in York County, is a safe GOP seat. But, local businessman and prolific conservative donor Scott Wagner has announced his candidacy. He is outspoken, articulate, and has the personal wealth to outspend the SRCC. Senate Republican leaders would prefer a more malleable nominee, but must decide whether to pour upwards of a million dollars in the primary to defeat Wagner, or save the money to defend vulnerable seats in the Philadelphia suburbs, and to focus on districts where there are pick-up opportunities.
Smart politics would be to let the candidates compete freely for the GOP nomination in each district and have the caucus campaign committees save their money and spend it on defeating Democrats in November. The question is, will Senate Republican leadership realize its old way of doing business no longer works and adapt, or will they continue on a path that could lead to the first Democratic majority in the state in nearly two decades?
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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