By Bob Kinzel
Vermont Public Radio | March 26,2014
The preliminary results of Sen. Bill Doyle’s Town Meeting Day survey show very strong support for a number of bills that expand the role of state government.
But the survey — which the Washington County Republican has distributed for more than four decades — comes with big caveats. It’s not a scientific poll, and the results represent the views of a self-selected group of people who filled out the survey on Town Meeting Day.
But many lawmakers pay attention to the results in the second half of the session because roughly 14,000 people participate. This year there’s very strong support for three bills that will be considered during the next few weeks.
By more than a 3-1 margin, people responding to the survey support raising the state minimum wage. Doyle isn’t surprised.
“A number of people are having a hard time making it in Vermont,” he said.
The overwhelming hardships facing some Vermonters “erases some of disadvantages of raising the minimum wage,” Doyle said.
Eric Davis, a retired Middlebury College political science professor, said there could be a downside if lawmakers raise the minimum wage much beyond $10.10 an hour because some people could lose their eligibility for a number of state benefit programs.
“So the Legislature is going to have to figure out carefully how to increase the wage for low-income workers without at the same time causing their total bottom line of earned income and benefits to drop,” Davis said.
The Doyle survey also showed very strong support for legislation that requires the labeling of food products made with genetically modified organisms.
Davis said the big question at the State House is whether Vermont should go it alone and risk a major lawsuit from national food processors or wait for several other states to pass similar legislation.
“How is it written in such a way to make a challenge less likely if a legal challenge does occur?” Davis said. “And where will the money be in the attorney general’s office budget to defend the bill in court?”
Also, legislation banning drivers from using cellphones received very strong support on the Doyle survey. The bill passed the House with a huge majority vote and it’s now pending in the Senate.
Gov. Peter Shumlin opposes the bill, but Davis questioned whether the governor would actually veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
“The better part of valor for the governor on this issue might be, if his personal views continue to be strongly opposed, (to) simply let the bill become law without his signature,” he said.
The survey also found that respondents were split on the issue of legalizing marijuana. Forty-four percent said “yes,” 45 percent said “no” and 11 percent were undeci