A Bozeman man has filed a complaint against a campaign that seeks to keep a revenue stream in place for state colleges and universities, alleging that a committee in support of the initiative violated laws by accepting contributions from members of state government, including members of the Montana Board of Regents.
Timothy Adams filed the complaint with the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices against Montanans for the Six Mill, a campaign aimed at passing a mill levy for higher education.
Every 10 years since 1948, Montana voters have agreed to impose a six-mill property tax levy to keep tuition low for state college and university students. If approved by voters again this year, the tax is estimated to bring in roughly $20 million a year for the next 10 years.
The complaint points out that Regent Robert Nystuen gave $500 to the committee and Regent Paul Tuss contributed $200. The Board of Regents is charged with coordinating, managing and controlling the Montana University System.
In a release sent out Monday by the campaign, Nysteun said the six-mill levy is not a new tax. Without the funds provided by the tax, Montana students could face tuition increases as high as 18 percent, the release said.
“This is a Montana tradition focused on providing opportunities to train graduates for the jobs of tomorrow and to keep higher education affordable for students an families in every county in Montana,” Nysteun said.
Adams’ complaint goes on to allege that the majority of contributions to the committee has come from corporations, and that the treasurer for the committee is Mike Frank, senior vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Tri-State Plans for the Health Care Service Corporation. Adams said in the complaint that the insurance agency profits directly from the university system and is trying to convince average Montanans to approve higher property taxes.
He said this was a clear example of a “business seeking to enrich itself and directly influence state government via Higher Education.”
The campaign for the ballot initiative also released a statement on Monday and said Adams’ complaint was without merit.
“The committee has continuously and proactively worked with the Commissioner of Political Practice’s office to ensure compliance with all Montana laws,” the release said.
Adams is an active opponent of the ballot initiative as the treasurer for a campaign called Montanans Against Higher Taxes, created to directly oppose the ballot initiative. According to the website, the group believes that higher education spending is out of control while Montanans are struggling financially with rising costs of living and low wages.
“When Montana ranks 47th in wages nationally, they should not have to subsidize a university system of flat in-state enrollment, large amount of debt and ever-increased spending,” the website said.
The Commissioner of Political Practices will investigate the complaint to determine if any violations occurred.