Economy 4.0

Think You Can Balance Colorado’s Budget? Try It.

Stan Alcorn Mar 15, 2011

It’s not exactly World of Warcraft, but Backseat Budgeter tries to turn balancing a state budget into a game. Get started and you’ll see a gas-tank-style gauge tilting towards empty, and a flashing red alarm: “Your budget has triggered a constitutional warning.”

That “constitutional warning” is Colorado’s billion-dollar budget shortfall for the next fiscal year. It’s unconstitutional in every state except Vermont to run a deficit, and the game lets you decide where to cut and where to raise revenues to deal with it.

You can go into the spending side and start making cuts. Cut all financial aid? $103.9 million. Close five rural community colleges? $12 million. Mental health, drug/alcohol rehabilitation, and education programs? Cut. $32 million. Just another $850 million to go.

It’s not easy to cut popular social programs, as Governor Hickenlooper has learned by calling for deep cuts in education. If you want to go a different route, you could just soak the rich, by changing Colorado’s flat income tax to a graduated one. That could raise more than $1 billion and balance the budget in one fell swoop.

But reality is not so simple. Colorado’s constitution says that tax increases require a vote of the people. Which brings us back to that flashing red sign: another “constitutional warning.”

Play the game yourself and let us know what’s in your backseat budget.

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