MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
University system supporters, students and others said Monday that voters should again renew the statewide property tax for higher education. The six-mill levy, worth about $13.4 million to the university system, goes to the voters every 10 years and is on the ballot this year. It was last approved in 1998 with 61 percent supporting it. A group that included business leaders and education officials was on hand Monday for the kickoff of the campaign to renew the property tax. They said the tax provides the base of the university system budget, helps keep tuition down, and costs only $12 a year for a $100,000 home. The tax has been approved every 10 years year since 1948. It was preceded by a smaller 1.5 mill tax first approved in 1920. "For decades, Montana voters have stepped up overwhelmingly," said Larry Simkins of the Washington Corps. In Missoula, who is a co-chair of the campaign committee backing the ballot issue. In total, the state spends about $200 million a year on the university system. But the mill levy is an important building block for putting the budget together, officials said. Shiela Stearns, commissioner of higher education, said the university system would have a hard time replacing the $13 million annually if it failed. Gordy Higgins, who is coordinating the campaign, said he expects they will have to raise about $500,000 to get their message out to voters this year. The campaign traditionally receives little opposition and is backed by both Republicans and Democrats. The board of the Montana Chamber of Commerce recently endorsed the measure. "Providing affordable higher education options for Montanans is a shared public responsibility," said Sherry Cladouhos, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana president and a co-chair on the mill levy campaign.