You can call them tools or games, depending on whether you think budget balancing is work or play. But we love these online budget things... interactive puzzles that allow you to make choices about what programs to trim or taxes to raise to get our fiscal house in order. (I even baked budget pies once, to show how they get carved up.)
They force us to think about our priorities and answer the question: What is government for anyway? Do you want fewer rules, fewer public programs, lower taxes, more space for individuals and the marketplace to find their own solutions? Or do you believe regulations keep us safe, a social safety net is humane and you're willing to pay for those things?
The New York Times challenged us to tackle the nation's finances a couple of months back. And the California policy group Next 10 devised a state budget challenge that we link to from the Governing California website.
Now here's a new budget balancer from the Los Angeles Times, customized for California's current 18-month, $28 billion deficit and the choices facing the state legislature. The puzzle allows you to balance the budget entirely with program cuts, entirely with tax increases or by devising your own mix of the two, as Gov. Jerry Brown has done. (The game does limit your choices: you don't get the option of increasing spending or lowering taxes -- those things would add to the budget problem).
So you'll have to decide:
Do you reduce funding for K-12 schools? Cut back in-home care for the elderly and disabled? Close community colleges? Eliminate prison rehabilitation programs?
Or do you increase the gasoline tax? Bump up 'sin taxes' on alcohol and tobacco? Institute an oil severance tax for California? Or repeal a recent business tax break?