Can you balance the state budget? Give it a try.

Jan 11, 2011

What would you do if you faced the tough choices state lawmakers are up against as they attempt to balance the budget?  You can give it a try yourself with a new online tool created by the League of Education Voters. 

Deputy Director Frank Ordway says, even though their app might seem like a game, it's based on the actual choices legislators are facing as they struggle with the $4.6-billion dollar deficit. 

"We put on the table here what is actually available to cut.  We wanted people to really understand how big the buckets were and what the impacts are going to be to balance the state budget."

For example, you can decide whether to eliminate the state's basic health plan, axe subsidies for low-income preschoolers, shutter the state's history museums or attempt to raise taxes.

Ordway says several hundred people have used the tool and are now sharing their versions of a balanced state budget via Facebook and Twitter. But he says most who managed to actually balance the budget did so by raising taxes - an approach he thinks isn't very realistic, with the two-thirds majority needed in this legislature.

Still, Ordway thinks their app allows people to get beyond hollow rhetoric to seeing what the trade offs really are. 

"We're talking about the lives of citizens of our state - whether or not they have health care, whether or not they have the schooling that they need, whether or not the promise of college is available to them.  These are things that my generation took for granted. "

The tool was inspired by something similar that the New York Times put out last year, looking at ways to balance the federal budget.

Will it matter?

That's hard to say - but Ordway thinks this budget crisis is unprecedented and lawmakers can use any help in setting priorities. 

He says the League of Education Voters will continue to post news about their tool on their blog.  And  they'll continue to update the app as the budget situation evolves in Olympia - for example, if new revenue sources become available or some cuts are taken off the table.