Crash and Burn
There is an old Irish proverb that holds "There’s nothing so bad it couldn’t be worse." That applies to Governor Tom Wolf’s job approval rating with the owners and chief executive officers of businesses throughout Penn’s Woods. It has now dropped to the lowest point ever recorded by a governor in the 21-year history of the Keystone Business Climate Survey. The poll is compiled each Spring and Fall by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research.
Eighty-nine percent of the business leaders surveyed said they have a negative view of Governor Tom Wolf’s job performance; just 5% give him a positive rating. That eclipses the previous record disapproval recorded by Governor Ed Rendell in the Fall of 2009 when 86% offered a negative assessment of his job performance. It is also a 20% drop in approval for Governor Wolf from one year ago. In fact, the governor’s job approval rating has now sunk below that of President Barack Obama who tallied an 88% job disapproval rating. It is the first time a Pennsylvania governor’s job approval has dipped lower than President Obama’s.
Driving the Governor’s record low job approval rating is a growing pessimism over the state’s economic climate. In numbers not seen since the depths of the Great Recession in 2009, 54% of the business owners and CEOs say Pennsylvania’s business climate has gotten worse over the past six months. That is up from 33% who experienced worsening economic conditions one year ago. The number of respondents saying the state’s business climate has gotten better over the past six months stood at just 6%, down from 13% one year ago. Looking ahead, 76% expect the state’s business climate to worsen over the coming six months, 8% look for conditions to improve.
In recent years, employment levels have held relative steady. That has now changed as 22% said they employ fewer people than they did six months ago, 9% report an increase in employment. In what passes for optimism in this poll, the same number (15%) predict employment levels at their business will rise or fall over the coming six months.
Another turn-around is in company sales. After steady or moderate increases in sales, the Spring 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey found sales had dropped at 39% of the companies responding, and increased at 18%. But, 27% project a sales increase over the coming six months while 15% say they look for sales to decrease.
About a third (30%) of the business leaders polled said their business had been harmed by the state budget impasse. But, 85% think Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed state budget will harm Pennsylvania’s overall business climate; 65% say it will inflict significant harm. Seven percent see the Wolf budget as helping the state’s economy.
Governor Wolf claims the state has a "structural budget deficit" of over $1 billion dollars. Assuming that is correct, 77% of the CEOs/owners said the state should cut spending to match revenue. Eighteen percent support a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes to balance the budget. About 1% suggested maintaining current spending levels and raising taxes to cover the deficit. Just 1% support Governor Wolf’s approach which is to increase spending and increase taxes to cover both the deficit and higher spending.
As part of his budget proposal, Governor Wolf has included an 11% increase in the state income tax for all individuals and businesses. Ninety-four percent oppose that proposal; 5% are in agreement. Another Wolf initiative is to raise the state’s 6% sales tax to help balance the budget. That idea was turned thumbs down by 73% of the poll respondents, but earned the support of 25%. Opposition was especially strong to the idea of increasing the state’s Corporate Net Income (CNI) tax. Ninety percent oppose the idea with 76% expressing strong opposition. Six percent support raising the CNI.
In the absence of a state budget, Governor Tom Wolf has continued to spend money on those items he deems appropriate. When asked if they think it is constitutional for the governor to spend state tax dollars on line items that have not yet been approved by the legislature, 87% said it is not; 5% think it passes constitutional muster.
The business owners and CEOs participating in the Spring 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey do not want a state budget adopted at any costs. When asked if they agree or disagree with this statement: A new state budget should be adopted immediately even if it means significant increase in my taxes, 89% disagreed – 80% strongly disagreed. Nine percent agreed and said a state budget should be adopted regardless even if it means higher taxes.
On other issues, the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives is considering impeachment proceedings against Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Kane is under indictment for allegedly leaking Grand Jury information and has announced she will not seek re-election in November. Fifty percent of the business leaders said the House should drop impeachment proceedings; 41% think impeachment proceedings should continue.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly is considering the legalization of medical marijuana. Sixty-three percent support the legalization of medical marijuana; 31% oppose legalization.
By executive order Governor Tom Wolf has raised the minimum wage for state employees to $10.15 per hour. Eighty-one percent of the CEOs/business owners said they oppose raising the minimum wage for the private sector to that level; 17% would support such an increase in the minimum wage.
Job Approval Ratings
President Barack Obama continues to receive strongly negative job performance reviews from survey participants. Eighty-eight percent disapprove of the job the President is doing; 9% approve. Janet Yellen, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board also received negative marks: 44% negative to 18% positive as did U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew with 39% disapproving of his job performance and 5% offering their approval.
The only official tested with a net positive job approval rating was U.S. Senator Pat Toomey. The state’s junior senator was given a positive rating by 48% of the business leaders against a 24% negative rating. U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. scored a 14% positive, 56% negative rating.
As noted, Governor Tom Wolf received a record high disapproval rating at 89%. That was worse than the negative rating given to Attorney General Kane. The indicted top law enforcement official received a 75% negative rating and a 10% positive rating. Two-thirds or more offered no opinion on the two statewide fiscal officers. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale got positive marks from 15%, with 17% offering a negative view. State Treasurer Tim Reese had a 17% negative rating against an 8% positive rating.
Participants in the survey offered a strong negative view of the job being done by the United States Senate: 77% hold a negative view of the institution’s job performance with 12% having a positive view. The U.S. House of Representatives fared a bit better with 72% offering a negative assessment and 18% a positive view. Fifty-one percent of the respondents give the Pennsylvania State Senate negative marks, 37% think the state senate is doing a good job. Fifty-one percent have a negative view of the job being done by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives; 39% say the lower chamber is doing a good job.
The Spring 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey was conducted electronically from March 14, 2016 thru April 1, 2016. A total of 367 individuals responded of which 84% are the owner of their business; 13% are the CEO/COO/CFO and 2% are a state or a local manager. Complete numeric results can be viewed at www.lincolninstitute.org.