Described as “a nonpartisan simulation of the tough choices lawmakers are faced with,” Next10’s annual Budget Challenge is back with a new facelift and a platform that allows anyone a crack at resolved our state’s $9.2 billion budgetary shortfall.
Like California Forward, Next10 is a nonpartisan non-profit created with the purpose of educating Californians about the challenges our state is facing. Through this education comes empowerment and civic engagement, both tenets that drive much of the work we do here as well.
Next10 began this endeavor by conducting a series of presentations across the state to inform people about the budget and the hard choices involved in balancing it each year. In 2005, they decided that some sort of interactive, web-based platform with all of the same information, but with the decision-making power placed directly in the hands of the user, would cast a much wider net.
Now in 2012, though this isn’t the largest one-year shortfall we have faced as a state, the cumulative cuts over the past few years have affected almost every Californian in some tangible way. Someone upset at large cuts to the public education budget might see things differently after realizing how much the state spends on education and what would get cut elsewhere in order to maintain that level.
The interface looks sharp and is easy to navigate. Not only are participants given numbers and told to make choices, they are given background information on things like Prop 98, which mandates that around 50% of the state’s general fund revenue be spent on education. As a result, one sees where there is fliexibility and where legislators’ hands are tied.
This knowledge increases government transparency and accountability wih the budgeting process by presenting to their constituents the same data state lawmakers use to make spend vs. cut decisions.
Because the effects of budget cuts can be so personal and so apparent in real life, and because the topic is so easily clouded with party politics in Sacramento, Next10’s nonpartisan and educational approach is crucial.
We talk so much of our lawmakers being accountable to us, but this is one instance where we must also hold ourselves accountable as citizens to be an informed electorate and to channel our passion and emotion on this subject into educated decision-making of our own.
At present, Next10 has no plans to dissect the data in any way because it doesn’t represent a genuine statistiscal sample of Californians. They do have 300,000 participants and counting, so the word is definitely out.
We’d love to hear about your own results of the Budget Challenge. Leave us a comment here or on Facebook!