Betcha they’re gonna raise taxes

Students at Palo Alto’s Gunn High School tomorrow will use the “California Budget Challenge” online simulator and handheld instant-response devices to come up with a balanced state budget and see how their choices will affect the state five years into the future — all inside of an hour.

The California Budget Challenge is a free online educational tool from Next 10, an independent, nonpartisan group aimed at educating, engaging and empowering California’s to improve the Golden state’s future through a deeper understanding of the issues.

The flash-based program leads users through choices on issues affecting state finances, ranging from education to criminal justice; users decide whether to raise income taxes, restructure Proposition 13, or expand health care coverage, among other choices. With each choice, a “budget meter” shows the state’s budget gap growing or shrinking. As options are presented, users can choose to learn more about each issue, including arguments for and against each action with the option of an in-depth explanation of the policy choices.

More than 80,000 people have taken the California Budget Challenge in the past five years; the 2009 edition has been updated with many of the choices that lawmakers faced in this year’s particularly contentious budget cycle, providing an opportunity to better understand the measures on the May 19th special-election ballot.

Now Next 10 is taking the challenge on the road, visiting classrooms and communities across the state. It’ll be interesting to see what these kids come up with tomorrow; they don’t care about re-election or term-limit musical chairs or campaign contributions or any of the other myriad concerns that seem to cloud lawmakers’ judgment when it comes time to do right by the people of this state.

And if they can devise a workable compromise plan without petty squabbling, in a way that wouldn’t earn them an 18 percent approval rate from their parents, perhaps we should send them all to Sacramento. Go Titans!

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.