Mariah Welch will start her senior year at the University of Montana by organizing students work for renewal of a levy that has helped support higher education in our state for 70 years.
As vice president of the UM student association and president of Montana Associated Students, which represents all campuses of the university system, this Billings Senior High grad won’t take levy renewal for granted. When the state’s colleges and universities took a state funding cut last year, students paid an increase in tuition, along with higher university fees and living expenses.
“It’s really scaring people because they saw what happened with the last legislature when we didn’t get full funding,” Welch told The Gazette. “If the 6-mill levy doesn’t pass, an 18 percent increase in tuition could happen.”
Campaign volunteers — most of them students — have already knocked on 90,000 doors statewide.
Paige Spalding, senior vice president with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. in Billings, is a UM alum and co-chair of the statewide committee to renew the 6-mill levy.
“I see what an educated workforce does in financial services,” Spalding said, adding that in her volunteer work she has learned of local and statewide shortages in health care professions. The Montana University System (MUS) is the major source of skilled workers for all these critical jobs.
Taylor Brown, son of ranchers, MSU alum, former state lawmaker and owner of Northern Broadcasting Network in Billings, is a big fan of Montana State University’s agricultural research.
“We’re the No. 1 pulse crop state in the nation today because the university invested in research,” Brown said. “Varietal wheat research was developed by Montana State University.”
Bob Brown, UM alum, former high school civics teacher, state Senate president and secretary of state campaigned for the higher ed levy in 1978 and has supported it every 10 years.
“Our great-grandparents passed the 6-mill levy to help our grandparents. Now it’s our turn to pass on this Montana tradition,” said Bob Brown, who lives in Whitefish.
Welch, Spalding, Bob Brown and Taylor Brown stopped by The Gazette last week to spread the word about renewing the 6-mill levy on the November ballot. This levy was first approved in 1948, shortly after the end of World War II, and every decade since has been renewed by Montanans who have benefited from this investment.
It’s time to renew that commitment to education again on Nov. 6. The 2017 Montana Legislature placed the levy on the ballot as a referendum.
Last fall, state university campuses in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Missoula, Dillon, Havre, Helena and Great Falls enrolled 32,535 Montana residents and 9,349 nonresidents.
The six-mill levy helps the Montana residents cover their tuition. Out-of-state students pay full fare, helping to fund programs that also educate Montanans. For Montana residents, tuition and fees run just over $7,000 for the coming academic year at Missoula and Bozeman campuses, compared with $24,000 for out-of-state students who enroll in the MUS.
The levy generates about $19 million annually — about 10 percent of the state appropriation to the MUS annual operating budget. The 6-mill levy is the cornerstone for funding the universities.
For Montana homeowners, the levy costs about $1 per month for every $100,000 in their property’s market value. For example, the owner of a $200,000 house is paying about $24 a year for this investment in higher education.
The Gazette encourages voters to renew the 6-mill levy.
It’s not a new tax.
It’s not a tax increase.
The levy is a tradition of supporting higher education for Montana’s economy and our future.