Utah makes game of budget process
- By Eric Kulisch
- Jan 03, 2001
Governor's Office of Planning and Budget
Utah officials are offering an online exercise to give citizens a civic
reality check about governance.
The Governor's Office of Planning and Budget is offering BudgetUtah,
a budget simulator designed to help people understand the state budget process,
its complexity and the tough choices that the governor and legislature face.
To start the budget game, PC users must first download the file via
a BudgetUtah link on the state's fiscal 2000 budget page (www.governor.state.ut.us/budget/fy2000).
From there, budget game participants are asked to balance a simplified
version of the 2000 budget. The budget they start with is $78 million in
the red. Players are instructed to change economic forecasts and tax rates
in a chart. They can make their own proposals based on agency budget requests.
The game becomes more challenging as unexpected events force players
to adjust priorities. One news flash says that federal budget cuts mean
Utah will receive $2.8 million less in social service funds. Another pop-up
news flash announces that higher education needs $45 million to fix the
Year 2000 problem, but that's followed by a message recalculating the figure
at $20 million.
The pressure mounts with a warning to players: "State law requires the
governor to deliver a confidential draft copy of his budget 34 days before
the opening of the legislature.... Time is running out!"
For support, players can click on a button to get advice from Gov. Mike
Leavitt. Each line item also comes with explanations about the particular
Meanwhile, the press covers every move. Raise the sales tax on food
and the newspaper calls it "an unusual increase" because most states exempt
food from taxation.
Creating the game was labor-intensive, said Lynne Ward, director of
the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, so her staff has not updated
it in two years. "It's just like the budget game making choices," she
said. "We're making choices about how employees spend their time." Nevertheless,
the simulator is still useful.
When the simulator was launched in 1999, Ward's office assembled reporters,
editors, cabinet members, legislative leaders and representatives from large
public-sector associations to try their hand at balancing the budget. Since
then, a couple of colleges have used it in their public administration classes,