This week marks the 47th year that Washington County Sen. Bill Doyle has distributed his annual Town Meeting Day survey. This year's survey includes questions about taxes, the environment and the legalization of marijuana.
In the winter of 1969, Doyle, a history professor at Johnson State College, was serving his first term in the Vermont Senate.
One of the big issues that year was whether lawmakers would back Gov. Deane Davis' plan to implement a sales tax in Vermont to deal with a growing budget deficit.
Doyle decided to survey his constituents about this and several other issues pending before the Legislature.
"The letters and the comments that I got were very insightful and very helpful,” Doyle recalls. “So I said, if it's good for the county why shouldn't I go statewide?”
Doyle expects as many as 15,000 people will fill out this year's questionnaire. The Town Meeting Day survey is definitely not scientific, but the results often mirror those of professional polls.
This year Doyle is asking several questions that he has asked before, and this means it will be possible to see if any trends are developing.
For instance, last year Doyle asked if marijuana should be legalized. The results were very close. Forty-four percent of respondents said yes, and 45 percent said no. Doyle says there's renewed interest at the Statehouse about this bill, but it's unlikely that it will come up for a vote until next year.
"A lot of people have said, ‘Let's see what Oregon and Washington do,’ so that seems to be one of the prevailing thoughts,” Doyle says.
In 2013, Doyle asked if sugar-sweetened beverages should be taxed to reduce obesity. Those responding to the survey were split. Forty-six percent said yes, while 47 percent said no.
Doyle says there's a push to pass this bill this year as a way to provide $35 million for a number of health care programs.
“It's certainly an issue of extreme interest to an awful lot of people,” says Doyle. "I mean, food is a key issue and health is, too."
This year's survey also asks questions about the future of Lake Champlain, health care, a possible payroll tax, and whether Gov. Peter Shumlin is doing a good job.