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Waterbury voters give their views

More Waterbury voters filled out state Sen. Bill Doyle’s Town Meeting Day survey this year than any other year in the past four decades.

Doyle has served in the Legislature since 1969, longer than any Vermont lawmaker, and has been distributing his annual survey at every town meeting every March since then.

This year, he said, 329 Waterbury voters filled out the survey, which, as always, asks Vermonters to weigh in on the current issues of the day.

“People feel it’s a way they can connect with their legislators,” Doyle said in a telephone interview last week. “What I do is try to consider what are the questions before the General Assembly that haven’t been acted on.”

This year, there were 14 questions on Doyle’s survey. Some were fairly one-sided topics, such as the importance of cellphone service and broadband to Vermont’s economy (284 said yes, those things are important) and concern over the increased use of opiates (298 think so).

Some were more divided, such as whether health care is “moving in the right direction” (139 said yes, 113 said no, and 77 were not sure), and whether wind turbines should be built on ridgelines (157 yes, 105 no, 67 not sure).

Doyle said 40 Waterbury surveys included comments that he called “very thoughtful.” Among them:

• On taxes: “Education should not be on the backs of property owners. It should be based on income – the current way of funding education is unfair and unsustainable.”

• Trash: “Let’s pass a plastic bag law. Too much plastic in the world. We’re leaving our grandchildren a mess to clean up as it is.”

• Drugs: “All drivers in accidents should be tested for opiates, marijuana, alcohol and benzodiazepines.”

• Affordability: “I believe Vermont is a very expensive state to live in, and we do not make enough money for as hard as we work. Something should change, as people are moving out of state just to be able to live and not have to borrow from Peter to pay Paul.”

The Doyle survey sometimes revisits topics, to gauge how public opinion is evolving, but Doyle said he typically takes issues off the table as soon as the Legislature does.

Going back through the Doyle survey is akin to taking a brief trip back through Vermont’s, and often America’s, political history.

In 1970, questions dealt with air and water pollution and landfills. In 1974, the topics of the day were capital gains and bottle taxes, and how the U.S. Congress is operating, “a question that can be asked every year,” he said.

In 1983, he asked voters whether Vermont should raise the drinking age to 21, and in 2009 he asked whether the state should lower it back to 18. Same-sex unions and marriage came up in 1998 and 2009, the year gay marriage was passed in Vermont.

The fate of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon has been a frequent guest on the Doyle poll, as has education funding, both before and after Act 60 and 68, the state laws that revolutionized the way public schools are financed.