Missoula senator’s bill would make higher education mill levy permanent

Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula

(UM Legislative News Service) A bill in the Montana Legislature would mean voters would no longer be asked every 10 years to reauthorize the six-mill levy, a property tax for higher education that has been on the ballot every decade since 1948.

Last November, 63 percent of voters approved the six-mill levy, which taxes 12 cents per $1,000 in property value and raises roughly $20 million per year.

Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, who’s sponsoring Senate Bill 152, said putting the levy on the ballot is outdated and voters have made clear that they want to fund higher education.

“The tax has repeatedly shown itself to be popular. There’s no question that the Legislature has the authority to impose it, and there’s no question about the need,” Barrett said during the bill’s first hearing in the Senate Taxation Committee. “With a resounding ‘yes,’ 10 times within the last 70 years, it’s time to take ‘yes’ for an answer.”

But Patrick Webb with the Americans for Prosperity Montana says time limits are a valuable tool and can help gauge public opinion.  

“Sunset provisions are good governing policy, especially on programs that rely on major government spending and debt,” Webb said.

The Senate Taxation Committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.