?alance the Budget Challenge?shows Floridians real-life fiscal decisions lawmakers face

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Millions of Floridians who find a way to balance their monthly budgets and checkbooks may be the best advisors to Florida Governor Rick Scott and legislative leaders in their struggle to balance the state budget in the midst of a nearly $4 billion revenue shortfall. And now, those Floridians from every part of the state and at every income level can take the ?alance the Budget?challenge created by The Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida.

This new interactive tool on The Graham Center website enables anyone to try to build a new state budget to meet Florida? needs, with dramatically fewer dollars.

Here? the challenge: Build a state budget that promotes public education, protects people? health and safeguards communities ?while closing a deficit of nearly $4 billion.

?his is a challenging online game that shows the daunting task currently facing lawmakers in Tallahassee,?said Senator Bob Graham. ?eople who use this interactive tool will be able to see what happens when strong campaign trail rhetoric intersects with the tough realities of governing. Anyone who plays the online game will go away with a better understanding of the real choices facing Florida today and in the future.?

The Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida website features an interactive budget application (www.bobgrahamcenter.ufl.edu/budgetapp) developed by Content Creators, along with technological assistance from the National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research for Advance Knowledge Enablement at FIU. The application providers users with options of spending cuts and tax increases available to plug the state? $3.8 billion budget gap going into the 2011/2012 Fiscal Year.

Former State Budget Director Glenn Robinson helped create the budget balancing options in the application. Participants face choices such as cutting education, health services or other spending, increasing taxes and tapping the state? trust funds.

As of March 31, more than 700 people have taken the ?alance the Budget?challenge since it went live in February. Of the people who have participated in the challenge, the following numbers show the budget balancing options people have chosen. (Please note, numbers don? add up to 100 percent because nearly all of the respondents selected multiple cuts and increases.)

Cut Education 62%

Cut Health Services 68%

Cut Law Enforcement 74%

Cut Other Spending 82%

Find Operating Efficiencies 88%

Use Non-Recurring Money 80%

Use Available Trust Fund Surpluses 71%

Increase Current Tax Rates or User Fees 79%

Add New Taxes 57%

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.