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‘Fiscal cliff’ not so steep

Most businesses see no effect, survey finds

NEW YORK – Washington’s belt tightening is having just a minimal effect on businesses, according to a survey of business economists released Monday.

The survey, by the National Association for Business Economics, asked how higher taxes and lower government spending had affected businesses in the first three months of the year.

Ninety-three percent of respondents said the political developments had no effect on employment levels in the first quarter, and 95 percent said they had no impact on capital spending plans. The NABE did caution, however, that businesses might have already accounted for the higher taxes and lower government spending in the fourth quarter, and adjusted their hiring and spending plans before the end of 2012.

Washington did seem to have more of an effect on consumers’ spending. While most respondents – 79 percent – said there was no impact on sales, 16 percent said the higher taxes and lower government spending had hurt sales.

The NABE surveyed a small sample, 58 members, between March 19 and April 2. They represent a variety of sectors, including finance, transportation, health care and manufacturing.

Overall, the results painted a picture of businesses that are feeling better than they were in the fourth quarter, when the fiscal cliff was still looming, but not as good as they were a year ago. “Fiscal cliff” was the common parlance for the fourth-quarter budget debates between Democrats and Republicans, who were under pressure to work out a deal before the new year. The one they hammered out includes higher taxes for workers that started in January and government spending cuts that started in March.

The improving quarter hasn’t translated into more jobs. Only 22 percent said they added employees. That was down from 25 percent in the fourth quarter and 28 percent a year ago.