Here’s a link to the Los Angeles Times’ balanced budget calculator. It’s there that you can imagine yourself wielding the budget ax, raising taxes, or doing some combination of the two to bring California’s $28 billion deficit over the next 18 months to zero. One of the revelations to me is that cigarette and alcohol tax increases, combined with some broad budgetary belt-tightening, could solve a good deal of the problem. One thing the budget calculator makes vivid—at least to me—is that you cannot get to a balanced budget just by slashing programs. Or, to put it more accurately, you cannot do so without literally decimating highly desirable features of the state (such as the UC university system, which is itself an indirect engine of economic growth in the state, producing elite scientists, etc).
I wish such calculators were somehow incorporated into election ballots—allowing voters to at least express preferences at election time to their representatives. The calculators are themselves an education, demonstrating the complexity of the policy choices that politicians face.