Maryland group releases Sims for state budget

The Maryland and Budget Tax Policy Institute, in conjunction with the University of Baltimore, have unveiled an on-line Government version of Sims. By using budget proposals outlined by Governor Martin O’Malley and alternatives suggested by Republic lawmakers, the “Maryland Budget Game” illustrates options the state has to close its $1.7 billion budget gap for fiscal 2011.

Will the state impose furlough days for state employees, or cut state aid to local and municipal governments? How much should local governments pay to keep the Chesapeake Bay 2010 fund? Does higher education take the brunt of the budget blow?

Players can decide these and other questions, while trying to find ways to reduce the budget deficit, using the actual proposals being debated in Maryland’s State Assembly. Other options include pending legislation, like raising the alcohol tax by ten cents per drink, dropping transportation projects or cutting funds for replacement police cars.

“The Maryland Budget Game is not ideological,” says Institute director Neil Bergsman, a former state director of budget analysis under Governors Glendening and Ehrlich. “We tried to include the most talked-about and the most realistic options in the game.”

Players travel to different locations to modify budget options related to different policy areas: the schoolhouse for education, a hospital for health, a park for the environment, etcetera. Depending how the player decides to change the various options, the state’s near-term and long-term budget status improves or deteriorates. At the same time, ten different simulated interest groups react to the players’ every decision.

“Each choice you make will not only affect the budget totals, it will also affect your popularity with ten different interest groups,” the game’s instructions outline. “If you make too many of these groups too unhappy, it might affect your and your party’s political future badly.”

“I think it gives you a sense of the challenge the Governor and legislators face, regardless of their politics,” Bergsman concluded.

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