You Too Can Play the State Budget Game

TIMES STAFF WRITER

To all of the cynics who complain that government can't get anything right and that they can do a better job--this may be their best chance.

Now, from the office of Gov. Pete Wilson, comes a new computer game called "Balancing the California Budget." It is loaded with enough color graphics, charts and statistics to make the governor's point that there are no easy answers.

The numbers in the game are from actual data and figures used to compile the Wilson budget that is now under scrutiny in the sharply divided Legislature. Wilson's game invites players to pose as a governor and follow the major decisions, step by step, that led to his $56-billion budget proposal.

Agree with Wilson's 15% income tax reduction? That will cost you about $200 million in the upcoming budget. Disagree with the governor's sharp cuts in welfare or his education spending? Go ahead and restore them. But then try to find money somewhere else by cutting another state program or raising taxes.

"We thought it would be helpful to communicate to the people of California the framework for making these decisions," said state finance Director Russ Gould, whose office designed the game over the last several weeks at a cost of about $12,000.

Gould said about 500 disks will be made for distribution to the Legislature, public policy groups, schools, libraries and to computer users of the Internet. Gould offered the following Internet address: http://www.oracle.com

For further instructions, access the "What's New" section under "Public Service Announcements." Then select "Download the State of California Budget Game Software."

The game offers a comprehensive resource for information about prison population, welfare caseloads, school enrollment, the state work force and laws restricting budget decisions. But users will also see plenty of budget advice from the governor.

Raise taxes on the rich and the program suggests: "High income people are often those who bring jobs to California. . . . Further taxation will cause many of these people to leave the state."

In contrast, however, cut the entire state welfare budget and there is no warning about increased homelessness or crime, as some legislators contend. Instead, there is the observation that California will remain among the 10 states with the highest welfare payments unless its budget is cut by more than 70%.

At the end of the game, Wilson plays newspaper reporter, offering a headline for a story about the player's budget plan. Agree with the governor's budget proposal and the next day's story in the Sacramento Beetle begins: "In a sign of good times to come. . . ."

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