The Center for Michigan has introduced a “balance the state budget” game.
“Whether you’re a government-cutting tea partier or a tax-and-spend liberal,” says the Center for Michigan website, “the game offers real choices to cut spending, raise taxes, and balance the state’s controversial books.”
But Mackinac Center for Public Policy experts say that the game doesn’t offer nearly all the options to cut that are needed to fix the state’s budget problems, let alone those that are available.
“Because there is so much information contained in the state budget, any attempt to make a game out of it is going to be a simplification,” said the Mackinac Center’s James Hohman, a fiscal policy analyst. “But the Center for Michigan’s budget game comes up very short.”
For example, the game gives people the option to cut business taxes by $1.2 billion, but then does not provide enough budget-cutting options to balance out the resulting $2.6 billion budget deficit with cuts alone. Yet Hohman says that if you really are a “budget-cutting tea partier,” there are many options available to make those cuts. He has reported a $5.7 billion gap between private- and public-sector benefits, and says that a more realistic game would have the option of requiring that government employees and public school teachers share more of the cost for their fringe benefits.
“But it’s nowhere to be found in this analysis,” Hohman wrote in an e-mail.
Similarly, Michael Van Beek, the Mackinac Center’s education policy director, said the only cost-saving option for K-12 schools is the option presented by Gov. Rick Snyder: a 4.2 percent reduction.
“There’s no option for the bipartisan-supported statewide health insurance pool that could save hundreds of millions if done right, no mention of HSAs that we calculate could save $450 million in one year alone or trimming OPEBS (other post-employment benefits) or moving to a full defined contribution retirement system for new hires. There’s no 20 percent school employee contribution that we’ve estimated to be between $300 and $500 million,” Van Beek wrote in an e-mail.
“Cool,” said John Bebow, executive director of The Center for Michigan, when asked about these limitations. “Launch your game. We’ll be glad to play yours too.”
“The No. 1 goal we are trying to achieve here is to try to educate people on some of the choices and get people talking and engaging in this discussion with more than just sound bytes. … If we are supposed to be a perfect set of options, I’m sorry.”