The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday February 26th

Gov. Bev Perdue releases budget game

If students have opinions on correcting the state’s budget deficit, they might get their chance to put them to test — in an online game.

N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue will release her budget proposal today, but not before she’s given residents the chance to try balancing it themselves.

The online program, called “Balance the Budget Challenge With Charlie” is an interactive site featuring Charlie, an animated Plott hound — North Carolina’s state dog.

The program leads its participants through a series of programs to eliminate or amend their funding, such as raising tuition for UNC-system schools, releasing state prisoners or laying off state employees. If the user succeeds in balancing the budget, he or she is rewarded with a bone.

The participant is also told how much revenue is raised and how many jobs were cut with each proposal.

Ben Niolet, the director of new media for Perdue, said the governor wants to present the budget to residents in an accessible way as well as let them know what programs are at stake.

“Getting the deficit down to zero is a big part of the budget, but the reality of it is, and I know Governor Perdue is very aware of this, that every number, every choice affects something,” Niolet said.

The governor recently announced that the state’s budget shortfall, originally predicted to be $3.7 billion, is actually expected to be $2.4 billion.

In the introduction text to her budget game, Perdue says there are still tough decisions to be made, and invites users to help her make these choices.

Virginia Gray, a political science professor at UNC, said she has her students use a similar program to learn more about state budgetary processes.

Tools like these allow students to see just how difficult balancing a budget is, Gray said.

“It’s interesting that students think they can balance a budget by whittling off something here, or zapping something there, but we have to tell them, ‘No, you can’t cut that; that’s an entitlement,’ and then they see how hard it really is,” Gray said.

Jason Windett, a political science graduate student, said the program is an important tool for government transparency though it may not be fully utilized.

“Most North Carolinians aren’t going to use it, but it will be a good tool for schools, for kids to get a close look at government,” Windett said.

“It’s the budget process with training wheels. This is a thing a lot of states are using to increase visibility of the budgetary process and show there’s lots of tough choices to be made.”

Contact the State & National Editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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