IT’S NO NEWS FLASH that Seattle has budget problems. We’re staring down a $32.8 million deficit for 2013, the next year for which decisions need to be made. How to get the public more involved in the lengthy, yearlong budgeting process? If only there were an app for that.
Well—and this is awkward—our neighbors to the north have already beat tech-obsessed Seattle to the budget app punch. In January, Kevin Falcon, British Columbia’s minister of finance, introduced My BC Budget, an online simulator that lets civilians play budget wonks. Users are given the municipality’s annual budget and asked to adjust its allocation to their liking—this much to road repair, that much to parks improvement, and so on. The users then submit their solutions to the BC budget committee, which will consult the suggestions for the 2013–14 spending plan.
Tim Burgess, chair of Seattle city council’s budget committee sees such a simulator as a valuable tool for gathering voter opinion. In fact, his office hopes to launch an interactive budget site sometime this year. “It would be great if the simulator was up and running and 50,000 people used it,” he says. “It sure would sway what we decided to cut.”
But hold on. Start asking Canadians—especially Canadians not named Kevin Falcon—about My BC Budget, and the takeaway gets a little more complicated. Economist David Schreck, a former advisor to the Premier of BC, says the simulator is “a good tool for elementary school students studying social sciences, and that’s about it.” He doubts any online device could begin to address the complexities of budgeting given the thousands of variables that arise when human beings divvy up finite resources.