40th Anniversary of the Town Meeting Survey

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(Host) This year marks the 40th anniversary of Washington County senator Bill Doyle’s Town Meeting Day survey.

This year’s survey asks Vermonters how they feel about leasing the lottery, same sex marriage, a four year term for governor and raising the gas tax to fund road and bridge projects.

VPRs Bob Kinzel has more:

(Kinzel) In the winter of 1969, Bill Doyle was serving in his first year in the Vermont Senate.

The big issue in that Legislative session was a plan proposed by newly elected Republican governor Deane Davis to implement a state sales tax for the first time in Vermont.

In an interview in the early 1980s, Davis said he reluctantly supported the sales tax as the best way to help Vermont deal with a growing budget deficit even though he knew his plan was going to be very unpopular:

(Davis) "Immediately the roof fell in and all the press said well he said it was a last resort and he’s made it the first resort and I did because I knew we couldn’t wait two years I also made the silent commitment to myself that I wouldn’t run for governor a second time but my changed about that !"

Senator Doyle was torn – he wanted to support Governor Davis but he felt his constituents might strongly oppose the sales tax plan. So he circulated a survey to gauge public sentiment on this issue:

(Doyle)"It was the toughest issue particularly for a freshman legislator and so I asked the question if taxes had to be increased would you prefer an increase in the income or the sales tax and the responses were about 60/40 in favor of the sales tax…for those reasons I supported the governor and his sales tax."

This 1969 question launched the Doyle Town Meeting Day survey. He readily acknowledges that it’s not a scientific poll but he thinks the results are accurate because he usually receives about 12 thousand completed returns.

Each year he asks roughly 15 questions on issues pending at the Statehouse and a number of people write comments about these issues on the back of the survey form:

(Doyle) "I’d say 10% which is a lot 10 to 15% and those comments are just as valuable as the numerical scores…sometimes long letters, 2 or 3 paged typewritten letters.

Doyle thinks the results of the survey can influence legislative action in the second half of a session. For instance, one question this year is: "Should the gas tax be increased to improve our roads and bridges?"

(Doyle) "Legislators pay attention to what the people back home feel anyway but on a question of road and bridges that would certainly make a difference and it would make a difference on any of these issues that we’re talking about."

Doyle hopes to have the initial results from this year’s survey available in about 10 days.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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