New poll by Vt. business group presents a different perspective

MIDDLEBURY — Contrary to what several statewide conservative politicians are saying, many businesses in the state think Vermont is a good place to operate, that taxes are not the biggest obstacle to growth, that reforming health care and providing for good workforce training and education should be top priorities for the state, and that health care should be publicly funded.
Those findings from a recent statewide poll by Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility were discussed at a policy meeting of the VBSR held last week at Vermont Coffee Co. in Middlebury. Newly appointed Executive Director Andrea Cohen told the group of 40 that of the 1,270 association members polled, she received 250 responses, which she said represented a solid sample of opinion within the statewide group.
It is no secret that VBSR attracts a more liberal group of businesspeople than other groups, notably the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But VBSR has been expanding in recent years and now represents a significant portion of the state’s business community — 35,800 Vermont workers or about 13 percent of the state workforce.
That said, some of the poll’s findings contradict what many within conservative political circles are saying. For instance:
•  87 percent of those responding to the poll said Vermont was “a good place to do business.”
•  The high cost of health care was cited as the “greatest obstacle” to the success of business, not high taxes, as several statewide politicians maintain. The lack of affordable housing, state economic development priorities and telecommunications were the other primary obstacles to business success cited by respondents to the poll.
•  High taxes was not listed in the top tier.
•  Of the greatest contributors to a business’s success, the Vermont brand and quality of life was at the top with 45 percent calling it a major contributor. Retaining/attracting a skilled workforce, networking/peer support and government accessibility were other contributors, in that order of importance.
•  Of those polled, 63 percent said they thought they were getting “good value” for the amount of Vermont taxes they pay. Of the places to decrease spending, corrections was noted by 44 percent, labor regulation by 34 percent, and professional licensing by 30 percent.
Of those places to increase spending, energy efficiency programs were noted by 76 percent, telecommunications infrastructure by 75 percent and public transportation by 72 percent. Of those places needing improved efficiency, environmental permitting and regulation was noted by 85 percent, tax system by 77 percent, K-12 education by 76 percent and professional licensing by 72 percent.
Poll results also showed that 76 percent did not believe that the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant should be allowed to operate past 2012, and 84 percent said health care should be publicly financed.

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