Maine posts budget challenge

Gov. Baldacci's Budget Balancing Educational Tool

Faced with more than a $1 billion budget shortfall, Maine Gov. John Baldacci recently launched an online interactive budgeting application tool designed to help citizens understand the fiscal problem.

"The goal behind creating it is to be open and accessible to Mainers, and to engage them in the challenge that's ahead and engage them to be comfortable in communicating their thoughts with the governor," said Carrie Gott, general manager of InforME, which stands for the Information Resource of Maine, a legislative entity that hosts and maintains the state portal.

Using the application, which requires Macromedia Inc. Flash, citizens can see and alter expenditures in 11 categories and make changes to tax revenues as well. Once done, they can compare the state's projected budget with their own modified one through pie charts and percentages. For those without Flash, a text version is available.

They can then send that information to the governor with another click and include, if they choose, their name, e-mail address, ZIP code and comments. That information, Gott said, is collected about once a week. So far more than 2,500 submissions have been made and the site — marketed through the media and gubernatorial speeches — has received more than 500,000 visitors.

She said the site has stirred some controversy among residents, a few who find the application "ridiculous." But many do play with it, and some who use it follow up by writing a letter to the governor about the budget woes, she added.

There's even talk about using it in classrooms as an educational tool so students can understand what a budget is and the challenges a governor encounters, Gott said, characterizing the application — which was developed without tax dollars — as a "democratic form of communication."

Gott, who said they haven't seen anything like this application in other states, added that Maine has received compliments and requests from other state governments about replicating it.

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