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Robert Morris University poll shows Governor Wolf in good standing

| Monday, March 2, 2015, 11:30 p.m.

Gov. Tom Wolf curried favor with Pennsylvania voters during his first month in office, a dynamic that could shift as he pushes for new taxes on consumers, wage earners and the bountiful Marcellus shale drilling industry.

About 57 percent of Pennsylvanians have a positive view of Wolf, according to results released Monday from a poll by Moon-based Robert Morris University.

Phil Harold, polling director and associate dean at the School of Education and Social Sciences, said the numbers gauge Wolf's early days from the transition to his inauguration. As his administration takes shape, they're likely to dip.

“Governors have a little bit of a honeymoon,” Harold said. “Their numbers are a little high at the beginning and they drop. That's the pattern in recent decades.”

Wolf, a Democrat who won his first bid for public office with nearly 55 percent of the vote over Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, gives his inaugural budget address Tuesday to the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

With a budget deficit as high as $2.3 billion, lawmakers and analysts predict Wolf will propose hiking sales and personal income taxes.

He campaigned on a plan to levy a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas drilling to help pay for public schools — an idea that industry and business interests oppose.

Lawmakers anticipate the governor will propose an ambitious restructuring of the state's tax code, including a substantial cut in property taxes.

Republicans like state Rep. Stephen Bloom of Carlisle warned that Wolf should proceed with caution if he proposes increasing the personal income tax because 79 percent of small business owners pay that instead of corporate taxes. Wolf has said he intends to cut the corporate net income tax in half over two years.

Small businesses generate 65 percent of the state's jobs, said Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon.

Raising the personal income tax “would be devastating to small businesses,” said Kevin Shivers, executive state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

The 3.07 percent tax last increased in 2003.

Wolf's popularity with many voters is an impressive start, Harold said.

One in five residents held “very favorable” views of Wolf, the same number who described their feelings as either “somewhat” or “very” unfavorable. About 23 percent described themselves as unsure, and 37.5 percent said their opinion was “somewhat favorable.”

Harold said seniors are the most skeptical demographic.

The university surveyed 508 Pennsylvanians in the poll, backed by Trib Total Media, from Feb. 11-20. It has an error margin of 4.5 percentage points.

Joe DiSarro, a political science professor at Washington & Jefferson College and Republican analyst, said Wolf's favorable numbers may be the result of a welcoming public.

“The public, in general, is saying, ‘We want to give the new governor a chance,' ” he said.

DiSarro doubts the potential for compromise with Harrisburg's split-party government, pointing to Wolf's intent to add or raise taxes.

“You don't have to be a political science professor at some small college to know the Republican legislature is never going to pass that,” he said.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or Staff writer Brad Bumsted contributed to this report.

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