Columnist : Lincoln Institute

But Concern Grows over EPA Regulations, Direction of Congress

Harrisburg — Results of the Lincoln Institute’s semi-annual Keystone Business Climate Survey of major employers found top corporate CEOs feel Pennsylvania’s business climate has stayed the same or improved during the past six months.
Thirty-four percent of those responding to the survey said business conditions in the Commonwealth had improved during the past six months while only 12% said business conditions had worsened and 53% said business conditions had stayed about the same.
That is an improvement over results of last Spring’s survey when only 16% of CEOs felt the state’s business climate had improved during the previous six months and 22% felt business conditions had worsened.
“Clearly, Pennsylvania’s major employers feel better about doing business in this state than they did a year ago,” said Lowman S. Henry, Chairman of the Lincoln Institute. “The Ridge Administration’s efforts at making Pennsylvania more business friendly are beginning to have an impact.”
Looking ahead, a 59% majority expect business conditions during the coming six months to remain about as they are, while 26% expect an improving state business climate. Another 15% expect business conditions to worsen between now and September.
Among the business community’s concerns, however, are tough, new clean air regulations being pushed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A solid majority, 74%, said they have heard of the EPA’s efforts to create tougher regulations relative to the amount of particulate matter and ozone which would be allowed into the atmosphere from sources such as cars, power plants and factories.
Opposition to the proposed new standards was voiced by 57% of the survey respondents with 30% saying they would support the new regulations and 13% offering no opinion. Fifty-four percent said the EPA’s new rules, if enacted, would result in their having to increase prices to come into compliance with the control measures which would be required under the regulations. Another 25% said the proposed new regulations would result in job cuts.
Many of the major employers participating in the Keystone Business Climate Survey reported increased levels of employment at their Pennsylvania facilities over the past six months. Forty-one percent of the firms said employment levels went up during the past six months, 35% said employment levels were about the same and 24% said they had fewer people employed than six months ago.
The survey also asked corporate chiefs to voice their opinions of the jobs being done by key national and statewide political and economic players. President Clinton continued to be unpopular with the CEOs with only a 23% positive rating. That rating is, however, an improvement from the 11% positive rating he received in last September’s survey.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan received an 81% positive rating, while Governor Tom Ridge’s positive rating came in at 77% and U.S. Senator Rick Santorum received a 63% positive rating. Opinion was divided on U.S. Senator Arlen Specter who received a 37% positive 37% negative rating.
In a stunning reversal of opinion, the CEO’s have lost their confidence in the Republican Congress. Last September 62% had a positive view of the job being done by the U.S. House of Representatives. In the current survey, the House’s positive rating dropped to just 42%. Forty-six percent offered a negative view of the House, up from 28% last fall. It is the first time since Republicans regained control of the House in 1994 that the Congressmen have received a negative rating from Pennsylvania’s business community.
Corporate approval of the job being done by the U.S. Senate has also dropped dramatically. Last September’s 61% positive rating has eroded to the point where just 46% have a positive view of the Senate’s job performance while 41%, up from 29% last September, have a negative view of the U.S. Senate’s efforts.
“The positive, take-charge energy of the Contract With America was popular with the business community,” Henry explained. “So far this session, the Republican leadership in Congress has failed to articulate a clear agenda for change. That lack of vision has eroded support for their efforts.”
Results of the Keystone Business Climate Survey, along with results of a recent Public Opinion Court focus group session on environmental issues are published in the current edition of Lincoln Journal, a quarterly magazine published by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. The Lincoln Institute is a non-profit, educational foundation based near Harrisburg, PA.