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Balancing the Budget is just sliders and buttons
July 6, 2009 10:32 AM   Subscribe

The current federal and state budget woes have lead many to create their ideal budgets to keep it all in balance, and now you can try your hand at the push and pull of budgets large and larger. You can be a nation-wide budget hero (toggle-able music) at Marketplace for American Media. The LA Times makes the California budget into buttons, where you can add and subtract whole segments of the budget in a quick-and-dirty attempt at making things even out. Next 10 have created a more detailed budgeting system in their California budget simulator and localized Oakland variation. Too much information to handle? Stockton's budget balancing options cover police, fire community service and public works, with sliding scales of money to spend on each.
posted by filthy light thief (48 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
There were two previous budget sim FPPs, but the linked sites are dead.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:33 AM on July 6, 2009


So, you guys are still spending a trillion a year just on your military, no?

You might want to look into that. You can do a lot of neat stuff with a trillion bucks.
posted by mhoye at 10:35 AM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wow, Budget Hero was tailor made for conservative talking points. All I can do is reduce spending, there's no way to raise taxes.
posted by DU at 10:39 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


CA should just threaten to separate like QC keeps doing. It's done wonders for their transfer payment balance.

And military spending is a federal responsibility. Although CA ends up paying more to the feds than they get back in services.

Anyway, I think these tools are really interesting ways to explain the situation although they do inevitably suffer from bias due to their constrained set of choices.
posted by GuyZero at 10:45 AM on July 6, 2009


DU, actually if you hit the gold "taxes" button on the lower right...

Interestingly, I was able to reduce national debt from 64% of GDP to 30% of GDP by 2018 and reduce the size of government by 3% of GDP by 2018 just by drastic military cuts and raising taxes on the very wealthy.

Who would have thought that socialism is so.....conservative?
posted by Avenger at 10:47 AM on July 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


Where's the option to legalize weed? There a BUNCH of money in there.
posted by Scoo at 10:47 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I did it. I had to go with every possible tax increase (yay taxes!), and cut one week from K-12 schooling, but I balanced the budget without eviscerating the rest of the social programs (which are peanuts anyways), or illegally screwing state workers. I didn't dare touch prison programs, except to let non-violent offenders out early. But you don't want to do anything to your rehab and training, or you are just creating a time-bomb.

But seriously - only $0.32 on gas? I would stick $2/gallon on. US gas is already too cheap.
posted by jb at 10:48 AM on July 6, 2009


(sorry, but "I did it," I mean, I balanced California's budget.)
posted by jb at 10:49 AM on July 6, 2009


I was within $3bn of balance CA's budget by working on the assumption that they can eliminate a lot of health spending if we get a federal public option. If I could have raised taxes another small notch1 I would have had the whole thing done.

1They helpfully compare CA's taxes to other states, but not other modern nations, so I don't feel bad about this in the least.
posted by DU at 10:50 AM on July 6, 2009


Wow, Budget Hero was tailor made for conservative talking points. All I can do is reduce spending, there's no way to raise taxes.

Um, try the big yellow button marked 'click for TAXES'. And gosh, why do you need to unnecessarily stir up partisanness?
posted by gushn at 10:53 AM on July 6, 2009


Ah yes, I can raise taxes in Budget Hero. But I can only cut the military by 10%, even though we have, what, twice as much as the rest of the world combined?
posted by DU at 10:57 AM on July 6, 2009


Lots of states have taken budget hits because of the economic downturn. The reason California in particular is fucked is not because it's impossible for a SimCity-style planner to balance the budget, but because the California political system doesn't vest that power in any decision-maker.
posted by grobstein at 11:02 AM on July 6, 2009


Interestingly, I was able to reduce national debt from 64% of GDP to 30% of GDP by 2018 and reduce the size of government by 3% of GDP by 2018 just by drastic military cuts and raising taxes on the very wealthy.

Yep, same here. $600bn surplus and I was limited to 10% reductions in the military. I even bumped science, education and "alternative" energy research up, among other things.

The problem isn't a lack of money. The problem is a lack of political will to pay for the things we want. Actually, it isn't even that. If you examine what other people are doing, not to mention real-life polls, cutting the military and raising taxes are very popular solutions. They just don't get any oxygen in the corporate media dominated by the RWNM.
posted by DU at 11:10 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you examine what other people are doing, not to mention real-life polls, military cuts and raising taxes are very popular solutions

Obviously because most people would rather someone else pay more taxes rather than increase their own. How could that not be popular?
posted by gushn at 11:17 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


I taxed everything.
posted by kldickson at 11:25 AM on July 6, 2009


I just deported everyone making less than $100k/yr and everything looks great!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:29 AM on July 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


Issuing a sack of rotten tomatoes and Sacramento bus ticket to everyone who gets an California IOU would do more for getting a budget passed than all this whiz-bang simbudget geekery.
posted by benzenedream at 11:39 AM on July 6, 2009


What's so strange is that per-GDP California has middle of the pack spending. This summary has Cali at #13, spending $115/$1000, a number that goes from $87 to $151. Breaking out BEA's state GDP and their total state tax number, you get Cali at #27 taxing 10.7% of GDP. Their nearest neighbors are MN and KS.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:51 AM on July 6, 2009


Obviously because most people would rather someone else pay more taxes rather than increase their own. How could that not be popular?

You weasel-worded it but you didn't explain it. If most people want to raise taxes, and raising taxes isn't constitutionally forbidden, why don't taxes get raised. There's a political stigma, obviously, but why? Because of the aforementioned RWNM.
posted by DU at 12:02 PM on July 6, 2009


RWMN?
posted by boo_radley at 12:07 PM on July 6, 2009


Obviously because most people would rather someone else pay more taxes rather than increase their own. How could that not be popular?

I, personally, would pay more taxes if it meant universal access to quality healthcare, universal K-college education and energy independence from Middle Eastern despotisms.

So, no, it's not really just a matter of herf derf liburls r parasites.
posted by Avenger at 12:10 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Last time Budget Hero was posted to MetaFilter I had no trouble funding single payer healthcare and every feasible "green" initiative with only modest Pentagon cuts and improvements to the tax code. This time around the only serious healthcare options are "bend over and take it from insurance companies" or "pretend bending over for insurance companies is like national healthcare," so I find myself unable to implement my intended political agenda. It seems like most of the moves Budget Hero allows you to make are centrist at best.

"Repeal the Bush tax cuts and you can do whatever the fuck you want" still applies, though.

Thanks for the California budget toys. I'll go play with those now.
posted by majick at 12:20 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I, personally, would pay more taxes if it meant universal access to quality healthcare, universal K-college education and energy independence from Middle Eastern despotisms.

Yeah, and I would pay more taxes if it meant eternal peace and universal vegetarianism.
posted by grobstein at 12:20 PM on July 6, 2009


You know, call me a crazy socialist nutter but I don't think that universal healthcare, universal education and energy independence are necessarily fantasies of some far-future utopia.
posted by Avenger at 12:23 PM on July 6, 2009


I, personally, would pay more taxes if it meant universal access to quality healthcare, universal K-college education and energy independence from Middle Eastern despotisms.

Sure, feel free to raise your own taxes. My assertion was that most people would rather raise others' taxes (say, "the wealthy") instead of their own.
posted by gushn at 12:31 PM on July 6, 2009


Wait, I forgot. You're gushn.

Nevermind.
posted by Avenger at 12:32 PM on July 6, 2009


You know, call me a crazy socialist nutter but I don't think that universal healthcare, universal education and energy independence are necessarily fantasies of some far-future utopia.
posted by Avenger at 3:23 PM on July 6 [+] [!]


Especially most other developed countries have acheived the first two, without breaking their budgets.

That's not to say that the changing age structure of all developed societies isn't a problem; it is. But the US has that (through Social Security and Medicare) anyways, without any of the benefits for the under-65s, and the general savings for society in general that these entail (like less health care spending per person from private and public sources).
posted by jb at 12:34 PM on July 6, 2009


"most people would rather raise others' taxes (say, "the wealthy") instead of their own."

Let's not put too fine a point on this. Most people -- people like me -- would raise other people's taxes because other people are the ones with the fucking money.
posted by majick at 12:45 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wait, I forgot. You're gushn. Nevermind.

This country is full of differing viewpoints, doesn't mean they are bad. If this bothers you, so be it.
posted by gushn at 12:55 PM on July 6, 2009


"I, personally, would pay more taxes if it meant universal access to quality healthcare, universal K-college education and energy independence from Middle Eastern despotisms. "

That the rub, everyone would raise taxes to pay for the stuff they want, it's raising taxes to pay for stupid stuff other people want is where friction comes in.
posted by Mitheral at 1:05 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


If most people want to raise taxes, and raising taxes isn't constitutionally forbidden, why don't taxes get raised. There's a political stigma, obviously, but why?

Obviously there are economic reasons to consider; looking at policies from a purely red/blue perspective is vastly oversimplifying the issue.

For California, raising upper-income taxes at the state level can introduce a whole host of problems. Two articles I like on the issue are Will a ‘Millionaire Tax’ Cause an Exodus of Talent? and Soak the Rich, Lose the Rich . Clearly, decisions are not easy when you want to keep talented producers, encourage innovation, and attract investment for the long-term.
posted by gushn at 1:21 PM on July 6, 2009


Where's the option to legalize weed? There a BUNCH of money in there.

I know you're mostly joking, but the economic benefits of marijuana legalization - while not insignificant - are massively overstated by most of its proponents.

Don't get me wrong: I'm for legalization, or at least decriminalization. But it's not the bank buster people think it is.
posted by mightygodking at 2:00 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


This time around the only serious healthcare options are "bend over and take it from insurance companies" or "pretend bending over for insurance companies is like national healthcare," so I find myself unable to implement my intended political agenda. It seems like most of the moves Budget Hero allows you to make are centrist at best.

Budget Hero uses CBO scoring, so they can only really include options that have been scored. That said, things got A LOT harder this year, mostly because, as you point out, there's not a budget-neutral health care option available anymore. (And because we're in a lot more trouble after the financial crisis and the recession.)

That said, I really, really like budget simulators: not so much because they're fun (though this one is, a bit) but because they make an almost impenetrable process and makes it really, really simple, without losing much in the way of accuracy. This is the democracy I signed up for, not the constant culture wars and science skepticism I've had to live through the last couple of decades. With these kinds of tools, public debate will enrich policy making in realistic ways!

I always thought all those hours lost playing Tower Defense games and SimCity were wasted, but now I think that a nation of video game geeks WILL be better able to solve the nations' problems than the last generation was.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:18 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Soak the Rich, Lose the Rich?

So...soak the people who are unable to move away.
posted by Xoebe at 2:30 PM on July 6, 2009


Recently, I was speaking with a local County commissioner who was explaining the difficulty in their budget: there is a reduction in revenues for services that charge a fee, such as building construction; there is an increase in non-payers of taxes (foreclosures and delinquencies); the bond which was passed several years ago is coming due; the public voted against the proposal to increase taxes in the election.

Having already cut staff, hours of operation and departmental budgets, there was no additional funding in their future. They are faced with cutting additional services such as closing parks and libraries and hoping the public would agree to allow them to raise taxes in order to keep things going. They have spent hours and hours going over any potential option. After this conversation, I realized just how much is sucks to be in charge of a small local government at this point in time.
posted by mightshould at 2:32 PM on July 6, 2009


So, you guys are still spending a trillion a year just on your military, no?

yes. It's expensive, but this way the California Army, Navy and Air Force are ready at a moment's notice to fly anywhere in the world and take out people who make snide generalizations about incredibly complex issues without paying even a little bit of attention.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:43 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I actually have a really simple answer:

100% income tax on every moron who voted for Schwarzenegger in the recall election. 80% of our state parks are about to be closed and it just makes me fucking sick to think about. We recalled a perfectly competent, if unexciting governor for this?

Actually 100% income tax is too good for those people. Let's send them all to Death Valley with no water, no food, no police, no schools, and no ambulance service, and see how long they last. I'm sure it'll be a Libertarian paradise in no time, and then everyone wins!
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:47 PM on July 6, 2009


Bakersfield can be the capital of the new Fucktardistan in the desert. The rest of us will keep the coast, elect Henry Waxman governor, raise taxes a bit, and get on with our lives.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:48 PM on July 6, 2009


My assertion was that most people would rather raise others' taxes (say, "the wealthy") instead of their own.
posted by gushn at 12:31 PM on July 6


We should go back to the tax system under Nixon, right? Or Reagan, perhaps.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:52 PM on July 6, 2009


Cut military spending by 25%, peg social security retirement age to 90% of life expectancy rather than a set age, uncap the payroll tax, repeal the Bush tax cuts and PRESTO you're basically there. Budget simulators are generally too constrained to simply juggling money around.
posted by Justinian at 3:28 PM on July 6, 2009


Bakersfield can be the capital of the new Fucktardistan in the desert. The rest of us will keep the coast, elect Henry Waxman governor, raise taxes a bit, and get on with our lives.

That will be fine and good until the earthquakes, wildfires, and flash floods happen. Then it will be bumper to bumper on Highways 10, 15, 40, and 80 heading for the Inland Empire, the Sierra Nevadas, and the Fucktardistan Desert.
posted by blucevalo at 4:21 PM on July 6, 2009


100% income tax on every moron who voted for Schwarzenegger in the recall election.

Although Los Angeles County voted against the recall of Davis 51% to 49%, in the subsequent gubernatorial election, LA County voted for Schwarzenegger 45% to 38%. And the alternative candidate was not Gray Davis but Cruz Bustamante.
posted by blucevalo at 4:34 PM on July 6, 2009


Xoebe: "So...soak the people who are unable to move away."

Sure, that would work. Except that "the rich" and "people who are unable to move away" probably have a vanishingly small intersection, so you may not like who you actually end up soaking. I suspect it'll mostly be people who have nowhere else to go.

It's not as fun as playing class-warfare games, but ultimately we need to have a tax code that doesn't make any particular group of people feel like they're being put in the yoke and forced to pull everyone else along. "Screw the other guy" is just a recipe for nasty back-and-forth cycles that in the end just leave us with a bunch of alienated factions and little in the way of a cohesive national identity.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:40 PM on July 6, 2009


drjimmy1: So, the Bill Maze plan, then?

But yeah, California's fucked. We've built a completely dysfunctional political system that has an unreliable tax base, government programs that are pretty much funded by constitutional mandate, a legislature that can't pass a budget without a fight (50%+1 to roll back civil rights, but 67% to pass a budget!), term limits that purge everyone with experience right when they might be useful, ridiculously gerrymandered districts, and an electorate that can't see how they've been complicit in all this for almost 40 years now.

Why do you think a huge chunk of the gubernatorial candidates (Republican and Democratic) want to chuck the whole fucking constitution? Though that brings in a whole new set of problems.
posted by Weebot at 4:40 PM on July 6, 2009


For those who don't live in an insolvent west coast state and who have way too much time on their hands, you can have a decent primer on CA politics as it currently stands vis-à-vis the governor's race in the New York Times Magazine article from this week.

For those who do live here, well, what you'll find out is that Gavin's press folks are going to make it impossible for you to avoid him for the next year and a half.
posted by Weebot at 4:58 PM on July 6, 2009


Budget Hero is fun! I balanced the budget for the rest of time, doubled basically every federal science & education agency's funding, guaranteed universal healthcare for everyone, increased SS benefits for the poor, and pissed off all of the rich people! I AM THE BEST PRESIDENT EVER
posted by synaesthetichaze at 5:53 PM on July 6, 2009


Interesting anecdote: a year ago one of my city leaders told me that the city can raise all of the taxes and fees it wants because, I quote, "What, do you think people are going to move? They can't afford to move anywhere else"

In reality, my city, much like the county, has witnessed a massive exodus the past ten years. Unfortunately for the county, the exodus has been concentrated on the upper-middle and upper-income brackets to surrounding counties with substantially lower property and income tax rates.

My point is that there is a level where those who can will leave and those who cannot will be stuck picking up the tab. A small tax increase probably won't be the death knell of California or other states in similar situations, but it's the cumulative effect of federal, state, local taxes and associated fees that add up. In California, for the super wealthy it's probably no big deal, but for those who are high income earners, but by no means wealthy (say, $75,000 - $150,000) tax and fee increases can be a huge drag.
posted by tgrundke at 8:18 PM on July 6, 2009


"What, do you think people are going to move? They can't afford to move anywhere else"

how utterly blind that person was - a young person who owns no real estate and has no children is very likely to be able to move - and they do - and there goes the future

more importantly - there's a whole world of people out there that CAN afford to avoid moving to any city where they might be paying more than they want in taxes - or where things are obviously in decay
posted by pyramid termite at 9:09 PM on July 6, 2009


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