While most commentary on the recent Public Policy Institute poll focused on tepid support for the governor’s tax increase proposal (just at 52% approval without opponents campaigning against it, yet) there were a couple of questions in the poll of specific interest to the business community. PPIC asked a broad question about government regulation of business – whether it was necessary to protect the public interest or whether regulation of business does more harm than good.

I imagine most people have shaded opinions about the issue, but even this broad black or white comparison brought some telling results.

The poll found that 48% think government regulation is necessary while 43% took the side of ‘more harm than good.’ However, the numbers have changed dramatically since the last time PPIC asked this question. In 2008, 57% agreed that regulation was necessary while 34% believed regulations did more harm than good.

Importantly, likely voters actually put the ‘more harm than good’ side of the equation on the plus side with 50% agreeing, while 44% of likely voters sided with ‘regulations are necessary.’

The PPIC poll did not separate out the attitude of business owners from the general public. Business owners who live with the burden of too many regulations would undoubtedly show a more one-sided advantage to the ‘more harm than good’ position.

PPIC pointed out that in a recent nationwide Pew Research poll, 40% of adults said regulation is necessary, while 52% said regulations did more harm than good.

In addition, PPIC asked respondents if environmental laws and regulations were worth the cost. In famously environmentally conscious California, the results were split. While 47% said they were worth the cost, 45% said they cost too many jobs and hurt the economy. Again, that is a shift in numbers – a “marked change” PPIC called it –from previous polls on this question. The idea that environmental regulations were worth the cost consistently scored in the high 50s to low 60s percentile.

In our difficult economy, voters recognize the need for businesses to create jobs. Job creation is often hampered by both time consuming paperwork and costs of regulations. Given the numbers in the PPIC poll voters seem to understand that.

The California legislature has given signs, that as a body, they, too, understand that too many regulations hurt business.

Six months ago, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg got behind SB 617 that purportedly would address the regulation burden on business. The measure passed and was signed by the governor.

At the time of Steinberg’s announcement, Marty Keller, CEO of Small Business Revolution, was skeptical about whether the new law would bring real change.  Today, Keller says, “SB 617 was a symbolic tiny first step in addressing a huge problem, but typical of our legislature its provisions don’t even take effect until next year.  But our state’s business climate remains mired in last place among all the states right now.  A two year moratorium on new regulations and amending old ones would demonstrate a serious commitment to our citizens’ need for a robust economy.”

Keller thinks the awakening of voters to the issue could make it an important subject in the coming elections. “Polls demonstrate the citizens across the country and across party lines are waking up to the terrible price small businesses pay to comply with ever more complex, contradictory, and regressive regulations.  …  I anticipate the issue of government holding back small business activity will become a theme in the upcoming elections.”