Let Montana’s university levy tradition live on

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Montanans will have a direct say in what we pay when the six-mill university levy comes before us again this election year as LR-128 on the November election ballot.

There may be other states that have statewide voted university levies, but I’m not aware of them. In the case of the six-mill levy, a top-heavy majority of Republican and Democrat legislators voted last year to refer it to Montana voters as the legislature has done every 10 years since the 1947 session. It has always passed; it has never been increased.

There may be other issues in Montana that have a history of strong bipartisan support lasting for 70 years, but I’m not aware of those, either. Over the years, conservative and liberal governors including Republicans Tim Babcock, Stan Stephens, Marc Racicot and Judy Martz, and Democrats Tom Judge, Ted Schwinden, Brian Schweitzer and Steve Bullock have publicly supported the six-mill levy.

Even in this era of increasing partisanship, the six-mill continues to stand out, perhaps uniquely, as a matter on which Montanans across party lines can still agree.

According to a recent statement by Republican Sen. Steve Daines, “I join Montana voters in supporting the continuation of common sense investments in our schools so that future generations can also benefit from our state’s public education system. The Six-mill Levy has served as the traditional building block of Montana education funding for nearly 70 years, and has also received the bipartisan support of Montana’s State Representatives and Senators, as well as a multitude of community leaders.”

According to Sen. Jon Tester, “Montanans have seen the value of the six-mill levy for the last 70 years because we know that investing in our kids, the future of this state, is a Montana value. A vote to renew the six-mill levy is a vote to give students the educational tools they need to decide their own futures.”

These Montana leaders have all realized that while higher education builds a strong workforce and a strong economy, it also provides vital and ongoing research.

For example, in the years since World War II Montana crop yields have increased by over 100 percent. Research in seeds, soils, drought and temperatures at MSU in Bozeman and affiliated Agricultural Experiment Stations around the state have made this happen.

The Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience at UM has been a national leader in studying proteins that move small molecules in and out of brain cells. Because these proteins occur in excessive levels on glioblastoma tumors, UM scientists’ research on inhibitors may lead to effective new therapies while spurring economic development in Montana.

The six-mill levy is a great, good and uniquely Montana tradition. Our great-grandparents established it for our grandparents who renewed it for our parents and us at the same rate of six mills. It is now our turn to pass on the same level of support for higher education to our kids and their kids.

Bob Brown is a former Montana secretary of state and state senate president. He serves as the treasurer for the six-mill.

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