This is a bit misleading, as just 466 people were polled for that in August.
Back in February, the same poll put support at 72%.
So the 6-mill is safe, right?
I’m not so sure. Let me tell you 3 reasons why.
#1: People Don’t Know What It Is
While the most recent poll shows 71% support for the 6-mill, the same poll tells us that a ton of people have never heard of it.
Just 7% are extremely familiar with the levy.
A whopping 46% have no idea what it is.
This is very bad news for this issue.
For instance, we know that 30% of voters don’t complete their ballots.
What’s more, the lower an issue or candidate is on the ballot, the fewer votes they get – those listed first on the ballot often get 5% more votes than candidates listed further down.
When voters don’t know about a candidate or issue, they have a good chance of skipping that one entirely.
Right now it sounds like 46% of voters will probably skip the 6-mill.
#2: Support for Higher Ed is Dwindling
Back in 2015, 57% of Americans had a lot of confidence in higher education.
Today 48% do.
Voters in both political parties feel this way, but confidence levels are different: 62% of Democrats view higher ed as doing fine, compared with the 39% of Republicans that do, and the 44% of independents that do.
Republicans have seen a 17% decrease in how favorably they view higher education from the time before the 2016 Election.
“Many Republicans believe colleges and universities are institutions that promote a liberal political agenda,” Gallup writes.
At the same time that we see a decreased level of support for higher education, we also see a slippage in support for the 6-mill levy.
We already mentioned that 71% support the levy, but when pushed if they’re firm on that support, 19% said they might change their vote.
Couple that with the already dim view of Higher Ed by Republicans and the 6-mill could be a lot closer than we think…if it passes at all.
#3: The State is Getting Redder
It’s true that 90% of Democrats plan on voting for the 6-mill, but just 56% of Republicans do.
The trouble here is that Republican voters outnumber Democratic voters by a wide margin.
Back in June we had…
- 39,000 more Republicans vote in the U.S. Senate primary than Democrats
- 29,000 more Republicans vote in the Supreme Court Clerk primary
- 25,000 more Republicans vote in the U.S. House primary
So as the state becomes redder, support for these types of levies will wane.
Bob Brown isn’t so sure about this one.
“Even in this era of increasing partisanship,” he writes,” the 6-mill continues to stand out, perhaps uniquely, as a matter on which Montanans across party lines can still agree.”
Still, I heard him mention a couple weeks ago that he was a bit worried for the 6-mill.
With so much bad press and negative ads around I-185 and I-186, many voters will decide to vote against all initiatives and levies and bonds.
This doesn’t bode well for the 6-mill.
I’ve given you 3 reasons why the 6-mill might fail. You can take them as you like.
Montana’s 6-Mill levy has been passed by voters every 10 years since 1948.
The levy makes up $21 million of the MUS’s funding, or 10%.
It’s figures if the levy doesn’t pass, students will have to pay up to 18% more in tuition.
We all know this as supporters of the 6-mill have pounded it into us.
Despite that, we’re wildly ignorant about the controversial history of Montana’s University System.
It’s doubtful that legislators will make up this the 6-mill funding if the 6-mill fails, as the legislature has been opposed to the university system throughout most of the state’s history.
While it’s true that the first college in Montana came about in 1878, it wasn’t until 1994 that the Montana University System was created. It was created due to funding problems and how best to manage them.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
After the capital city fight ended in the 1890s, the fight between the cities over who’d get the universities started up.
Legislators back then “decided to create a multi-unit system that would gratify several ambitious cities and keep hard feelings to a minimum.”
This allowed four campuses to take shape, overseen by the legislature. By 1913, though, calls started up for consolidating the four campuses into one or two. The main issue? Funding.
Instead of consolidating the campuses, however, the legislature consolidated funding by creating the State Board of Education, as well as a chancellor to oversee the four schools.
The very next year, in 1914, voters were given the chance to do what the legislature couldn’t – consolidate the universities.
Instead of doing so, however, they authorized two additional schools: Eastern Montana Normal College (opened in 1927) and Northern Montana College (opened in 1929). Most of the homesteaders that’d voted for them were long gone by then.
“The failure of consolidation meant mounting demands for state revenue,” historian Michael Malone writes, “which came mainly from the general fund raised by the statewide property tax.”
By 1920 this just wasn’t enough, especially with all that tax money wiped away by the homesteading bust.
Voters approved two initiatives that year that changed how tax money was raised for schools, and they did this by creating special mill levies.
In 1930 the voters again approved this strategy, renewing the one-and-a-half mill levy of 1920 for another ten years.
But by God…those schools were still expensive!
That’s why 1933 was probably the closest the Montana University System came to seeing consolidations. That year there were two bills before the legislature, to close the Havre and Billings campuses.
Instead of closing them the legislature cut funding drastically, for not just those two campuses but all six. The chancellor at the time was forced to resign because the legislature didn’t appropriate any money to pay him.
These cuts caused twenty-five faculty members to go to other states for work by 1935. According to the president of Montana State College in Bozeman, their salaries were 47% higher.
Montana’s University System remained without a chancellor until 1943 when the governor convinced the legislature to finally fund the position once again.
By 1940 voters had gotten used to having mill levies around and this time 3.5 mill levies were passed, up from the 1.5 of ten years earlier.
Because of the growing strains on Montana’s university system, in 1947 the legislature threw two referendums out to the people to vote on the next November.
One of these would give the university system six mill levies to supply its needed funds. The other would create an infrastructure building bond of $5 million. Both passed by a vote of the people and in 1958 the six-mill levy of the university was passed again. It’s passed every ten years since then, and Montanan’s have seen the effects clearly in their pocketbooks.
But oh how the legislature continued to fight higher education!
Despite college enrollment shooting up substantially in the late-1940s and early-1950s as veterans came home and took advantage of the G.I. bill, by 1950 the Montana university chancellorship was seen as useless and abandoned entirely.
For nearly a decade nothing filled its role, until 1959 when the legislature decided to make the Board of Education the Board of Regents when acting on university matters.
- Then in 1961, Governor Nutter and the legislature cut $4 million from the universities. It took the state years to overcome these cuts.
- By the 1970s, however, Governor Judge increased education spending by 236%, including a doubling of the university system’s budget.
- In the 1980s, Governor Schwinden also increased spending for the universities, while also chastising the Board of Regents on their oversight, and the faculty on their laziness.
- By the 1990s, things turned around. Governor Racicot cut education spending in the state so much that by the time he left office in 2001, the state ranked dead last in the country for schools and colleges.
- The 2003 tax cuts driven through by Governor Martz did further damage, and in the 15 years since then, few spending increases have been seen when it comes to the university system.
In 1972 just 49% of high school graduates headed off to college, and at a time when grants covered 80% of the average tuition, room and board price of $1,458.
By 2014 a total of 68% of high school graduates headed off to college. Grants covered about 20% of the average tuition, room and board price of $15,022.
Axelrod, David and Murphy, Mike. “More than 30 percent of voters fail to complete their ballots. Don’t be one of them.” Vox. 7 November 2017. https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2016/11/7/13553496/down-ballot-vote-local-elections-informed-voter
Jones, Jeffrey M. “Confidence in Higher Education Down Since 2015.” Gallup. 9 October 2018. https://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/242441/confidence-higher-education-down-2015.aspx?g_source=link_NEWSV9&g_medium=LEAD&g_campaign=item_&g_content=Confidence%2520in%2520Higher%2520Education%2520Down%2520Since%25202015
King, Jon. “Poll Indicates Montana Will Likely Pass 6-Mill Levy, Though Nearly Half Don’t What It Is.” KGVO. 8 October 2018. http://newstalkkgvo.com/poll-indicates-montana-will-likely-pass-6-mill-levy-though-nearly-half-dont-know-what-it-is/
“Poll Finds Majority Favor Continuing 6-Mill Levy.” Daily InterLake. 4 October 2018. https://www.dailyinterlake.com/local_news/20181004/poll_finds_majority_fav