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Eureka! California's Budget Balancer

California's budget has been seriously weakened over the past two decades. Constitutional changes like Proposition 13 which capped local property taxes, Proposition 4 which limited state spending, and Proposition 98 which mandated a certain portion of the state budget be appropriated to education, have diluted the flexibility and prosperity traditionally enjoyed by the state. A prosperous economy that led to substantial state revenues masked inherent budgetary problems through the late 1980s. However, by 1990, with an economy weakened by recession and ravaged by defense cutbacks, the lawmakers and the general public began to experience the full, painful impact of the structural changes.

California's annual budget crisis gained increasing public attention in the 1990s. The 64-day budget impasse of 1992 disrupted thousands of Californians' lives while garnering national and international media coverage. Despite the impact of the state budget on California's 31 million residents, the media continually fails to cover the budget process with any depth, leaving many citizens ignorant of the repercussions of constitutional and voter-initiated constraints, the mechanics of the budget process, and potential solutions to budgetary challenges.

Crucial to addressing this problem is the development of an understanding in stakeholders and citizens of the existing budget and its process. The Center for California Studies has developed EUREKA! California's Budget Balancer (EUREKA!) specifically to increase non-partisan civic knowledge and understanding of fiscal policy issues facing California.

Based on two highly successful federal budget simulations (The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget's Exercise in Hard Choices and Broderbund Software's Uncle Sam's Budget Balancer), EUREKA! includes budgetary figures and proposals from the Legislative Analyst's Office, the California Department of Finance, as well as budget proposals from a gamut of political and ideological persuasions. The simulation also incorporates Constitutional restrictions faced by legislators and the Governor. The implementation of EUREKA! throughout the state will occur in ten sessions wherein a mock legislature of California citizens are charged with balancing the budget, thus making choices similar to those made by elected officials.

In the first half of 1997, the Center organized EUREKA! sessions at San Jose State University, Cal Poly Pomona, California State University Fullerton, and in San Diego in conjunction with the annual meeting of the California League of Women Voters. During the 1997-98 academic year, additional EUREKA! sessions will be held at DeAnza College, the California Maritime Academy, Fresno State University, and three other CSU campuses.

EUREKA!, which is programmed by Broderbund as a stand-alone software application, is divided into two categories: revenues and expenditures. Participants can raise taxes and cut programs as they wish to achieve a balanced budget. Each participant receives a handbook with software application instructions, a briefing on the budget and associated Constitutional and structural restrictions, a glossary of budget terms, and detail on all revenue and expenditure proposals. All information is contained in the application, with the added benefit of automatic calculation of the fiscal impact of proposals. The handbooks reinforce understanding of the budget-making process and serve as a tangible reference that players may take home and use in additional budget simulation sessions they convene.

Participants in each session are divided into groups of nine so that each group can experience the tension between a simple majority and the two-thirds majority required by the State Constitution. Host CSU campuses invite members of the university, extended community (e.g., faculty and students as well as business, labor, non-profit, and education leaders of the surrounding communities) to participate in EUREKA! sessions. Participants thus face the same diversity of interests and constituencies faced by the Legislature.

The purpose of EUREKA! is to underscore the impact of changing revenue bases, fluctuating expenditure demands, and constitutional and structural constraints. The computerized budgets developed during each simulation held between 1996 and 1998 will be compiled in a final report, which will be presented to the Legislature and Governor in January 1999 as an indicator of public opinion regarding the State budget. EUREKA! sessions will be held at ten California State University campuses from August 1996 through June 1998.

EUREKA! is partly funded through a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Hewlett Foundation has generously funded the activities of an informal coalition of groups concerned with California's ongoing budget challenges. These groups include the Center for California Studies as well as the California Governance Consensus Project, the California Budget Project, the League of Women Voters, and the UCLA Extension Public Policy Program. Each of these groups bring different and important resources to bear on understanding and improving the state budget process.

The California Budget Project prepares briefing papers and analyzes reform proposals, providing technical expertise for legislators and other stakeholders. The Consensus Project brings stakeholder groups together to forge agreement about what ideas can best solve budgetary challenges. The League of Women Voters uses its statewide network to inform citizens of the intricacies of various proposals and facilitates community discussions. Finally, UCLA Extension's Public Policy Program offers conference operations and research and analytical support as the group of organizations seeks to advance a reform agenda.

To Download Eureka!, click HERE.

Eureka is copyrighted by the Center for California Studies, Sacramento State and Broderbund Software Inc.

For more information, contact the Center for California Studies at 916-278-6906 or .