Online Tool Gives Californians a Voice in the State Budget Battle: Next 10's "California Budget Challenge" Sunshines Back Room Political Process

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Sacramento, CA, – Next week, Governor Schwarzenegger will submit his May Revise of the 2007-08 State Budget and Sacramento legislators are gearing up to fight for their budget priorities. Tradeoffs once made in backrooms of the state Capitol, miles from the attention or awareness of constituents, are now accessible online. Next Ten’s “California Budget Challenge”, a nonpartisan Internet tool, provides Californians with the means to tell their legislators the choices they would make concerning policies, programs and funding mechanisms.

Created by the nonpartisan, independent organization Next Ten, the California Budget Challenge ( provides an annual examination of the State’s most pressing budget policy choices. It challenges users to set priorities for the next five years by creating a budget that reflects their values and vision for California’s future. A new “Take Action” button provides a mechanism for constituents to cast their votes on policy choices with their legislators immediately. Since its launch in 2005, more than 40,000 Californians have taken the “Challenge.”

“Before the California Budget Challenge, California’s budget decision making process – which has profound impact on all Californians was many steps removed from the voter,” said Leon Panetta, former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton and senior advisor to Next Ten. “Now constituents can voice their preferences in realtime and influence critical decisions that affect their everyday lives. They don’t have to wait until Election Day to make their voices heard.”

The 2007 Budget Challenge contains 16 questions, half of which are new to the 2007 version, with nine spending policy options and seven revenue policy options. This year’s policy options include such topical choices as whether to levy a carbon tax, restructure Proposition 13, the initiative that dictates the rate at which property values increase, establish a clean car discount or provide universal health care. In addition, a new feature allows users to see how others have voted on each policy choice.

A budget meter at the bottom of each policy option screen shows what the state budget deficit would be in 2011-12, based on users’ policy choices. The Challenge provides detailed education on how the budget is built, including explanations of growth in spending (caseload, inflation and service level) and revenue (U.S. and California economic growth rates and California tax rates). A new “Prop 98” button appears on every page with an explanation of the proposition’s impact on spending and revenue choices.

“These days, political choices are often presented in a vacuum, which oversimplifies the situation and contributes to political gridlock. The beauty of Next Ten’s California Budget Challenge is that it informs while it empowers. Voters must make choices within the complex context of multiple competing interests,” said Next Ten senior advisor Carol Whiteside, president of the Great Valley Center and the former Mayor of Modesto.

Over the course of the budget season, Next Ten will roll out the “California Budget Challenge” to voters, students and other Californians through community, civic and business organizations, California high schools, community colleges, and universities, and public libraries. Next Ten will also convene public events and conduct web-based outreach. The League of Women Voters will hold “Challenge” sessions during their meetings across the state.

“Every Californian has a stake and a role in the state budget process,” said F. Noel Perry, Founder of Next Ten. “The California Budget Challenge is intended to educate, engage and empower. Those who understand the critical decisions and make their voices heard can affect the process and the future of our state.”