Thanks to all 356 folks who responded to my 2020 legislative survey. The first survey completed was on November 16th and the last one popped up in my mailbox on December 16th.
For survey junkies and statistical gurus out there, I will be the first to admit this was not a scientific survey. I simply included the issues on which I’ve heard from constituents most frequently in the last year. The invitation to answer the survey went out to the subscribers of the Jim & Tim Report and to the list servs in Norwich, Sharon, Strafford, and Thetford, the four towns I represent. 40.1% of respondents were from Thetford, 27.3% from Norwich, 22.8% from Strafford, and 9.8% from Sharon.
The survey consisted of six questions and I offered respondents the opportunity to provide additional comment with each question….and many of you did. I really appreciate those comments and the thoughtfulness you put into your answers.
Let me share with you the summary results of the survey.
Question #1: What are the top-3 issues you would like to see the legislature address in 2020?
Pass legislation to address climate change 48.9%
Improve affordability of health care 41.6%
Increase the availability of affordable housing 34.8%
Invest in rural economic development, including broadband 33.7%
Enact gun safety legislation 26.7%
Raise the minimum wage 21.4%
Provide additional support for high quality childcare 15.7%
Make Vermont's public colleges more affordable 14.3%
Invest in more treatment for opioid misuse 12.6%
Ban toxic chemicals that are known to harm kids 12.6%
Tax and regulate marijuana 12.6%
Implement criminal justice reforms reducing incarceration rates 10.4%
Enact laws to address institutional racism and implicit bias 7.6%
Create a paid family and medical leave insurance program 7.0%
67 of you provided additional commentary on Question #1. By far, the most frequent comments were along the line of “OMG, Tim! All of these are critically important!!!” and “All are high priority!” and “Wow, that was hard! only three, huh?” It’s the story of Jim and my lives in the legislature. With very limited time (the legislature is only in-session for 4+ months each year) and extremely limited resources (Vermonters pay plenty in taxes, but we still severely underfund many of the priorities you listed), we are often compromising on what legislation can be passed and what programs can be funded.
Importantly, the second most frequent additional comments on Question #1 were similar to these: “Make VT more affordable to do business in and to live in” and “Less taxes and regulation on business” and “Quit enacting new programs and lower taxes.”
Question #2: Do you think gradually increasing the minimum wage will benefit VT’s economy and its workers?
Not Sure 13.4%
68 respondents provided additional commentary. The supporters responded with comments like “people should not have to hold down 2 or 3 jobs to survive” and “’gradually’ is too slow,” but also “gradually is the way to go.” The “not sures” commented most frequently along the lines of “income inequality is a real problem, but I don’t know if this is the way to address it” and “my uncertainty lies in the regional challenges of minimum wage and its impact on small business owners.” Commentary opposed to an increase in the minimum wage said things like “this will only drive the cost of goods higher” and “this is a business killer.”
In 2019, the bill that was passed by the Senate would have raised the minimum wage to $15/hour, from its current $10.78, by 2024. The House bill would have raised the minimum wage annually by 2.25x the rate of inflation until it reached $15/hour (probably in 2026 or 2027). I expect the legislature to vote on a compromise proposal early in 2020.
Question #3: Do you support the creation of a statewide family & medical leave insurance program? The program would be funded by employees ($20 in premiums for every $10,000 of wages) and would provide up to 12 paid weeks off to care for a newborn child or 8 paid weeks off to care for a family member.
Not Sure 14.9%
I provided a little more background as part of this question because family & medical leave insurance is a program where the details matter and it’s often not well understood. Replaced wages under the insurance program would amount to 90% of the first $27,000 in annualized wages and 50% of wages above that annualized amount. The benefit would be capped at a $1,334 weekly amount. At the employer’s discretion, the premium could be paid by the employer, split, or paid by the employee.
“Yes” respondents most frequently commented similar to this: “There is no better investment in our communities that supporting our newborn and elderly citizens.” “Not sures”: “need to know more about the economics.” Consistently, the “no” responders wanted to keep government out of this space.
Similar to the question on raising the minimum wage, the House and Senate couldn’t come to a compromise this past May, though I expect that impasse to be overcome in January.
Question #4: The possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana has been legal in VT since July 1, 2018, but sale of marijuana remains illegal. Do you support VT allowing the commercial sale of marijuana, including taxing and regulating this market?
Not Sure 25.0%
These results are consistent with the Town Meeting Day poll in recent years. 71 people provided comments along with their answers. A typical “yes” respondent said, “It needs to be regulated to benefit small local farmers not Big Ag or the pharmaceutical companies” and “Tax it heavily to fund state programs, affordable housing, healthcare etc.” People responding “no” most often raised concerns along the lines of: “don't support commercial sale nor opening production up to big and often out-of-state companies/investors” and “marijuana is more damaging to public health and safety than people realize.” Responders who were not sure often commented, “wait on this and see what happens in other states which have allowed commercial sale of marijuana.”
Question #5: As a means of addressing climate change, do you support VT working with other Northeast states to create a regional system for pricing carbon pollution produced by transportation fuels? The effect of this "cap-and trade" system may be to increase the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel, while helping VTers transition to non-fossil fuel technologies.
Not Sure 13.5%
In the last month, this issue has been in the news as the details of the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) program have been announced. The program design was a collaboration of a dozen states from Virginia up to Maine. In the coming months, individual states will decide whether to formally join TCI. Governor Scott’s early comments have not been enthusiastic about Vermont joining TCI. I believe this is a crucial program for weaning VT off internal combustion engine cars and am hopeful, though not optimistic, that the legislature can override what appears likely to be the governor’s rejection of TCI.
Typical supporters of TCI commented, the “transition to a low-carbon economy is essential and must take place at regional/national/international levels.” Folks who oppose TCI often made comments like this: “until there are AFFORDABLE, EFFECTIVE and widely accessible alternatives to fossil fuels this should not be a consideration.” This comment captured the sentiment of responders who were not sure: “The climate crisis is real, and so is poverty. Concerned about the impact on the working poor.”
Question #6: The U.S. is in the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the global treaty focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Do you support making the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals of the Paris Agreement (at least a 26% reduction below 2005 levels by 2025) a statutory obligation of the State of Vermont?
Not Sure 7.9%
It warmed my heart that this was the most decisive survey question as this is the bill that will be the core of my committee’s work in 2020. Now to get the legislature and the governor on-board! This will be a hotly contested bill starting in January.
Of the 71 surveys that included comments, typical “yes” responders said, “YES! We should go even further than the Paris Agreement!” or “Paris is the minimum we should do.” Folks who were not sure offered comments similar to this: “there is no point creating a statutory obligation if there isn't a detailed plan on how to get there.” The “no” respondents frequently responded along these lines: “This is a problem the country needs to tackle. To do this as a single state is stupid and meaningless.”
The 7th question in the survey was optional and asked how I could better serve you as your state representative. I particularly appreciated my mom’s response that I’m “perfect already.” The most common refrain of the other 136 responders had suggestions related to public availability like “love to see you at recycling” and “have casual sessions at the Norwich Inn” and an interest in “forums around town.”
Many people responded, “How about more surveys like this?”
Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions. Most helpful.
Happy New Year and best wishes for 2020!
Some pictures to share with you:
This was the first year I’ve done two Turkey Trots locally. Thanksgiving morning was the Norwich trot as a cast of hundreds ran 4+ miles around town. This is such a fun event seeing so many locals – from college students to snowbirds – who have returned home for a few days of feasting.
Friday morning was the trot at the Strafford Nordic Center. It was a bone-chillingly raw morning
where 20+ hearty souls braved wind and snow and ice on the trails. We were rewarded with Strafford Organic Creamery chocolate milk and chocolate chip cookies after finishing.
Never know who you’re going to run into at the gas pumps at Dan & Whit’s. Saturday morning with lots of 19 Days of Norwich celebrating going on, I found House Speaker Mitzi Johnson about halfway through her trip from Boston to South Hero, VT.
A few times a year the VT Humanities Council has events in the Upper Valley. At one of their
events in early-December, I got to hear and meet one of my favorite podcasters, Erica Heilman of Rumble Strip Vermont. I highly recommend giving her a listen, and if you’re just checking her out for the first time, try her Dunkin’ Donuts episode.