UA researchers use game to show state budget woes

ANCHORAGE — Researchers at the University of Alaska Anchorage are using a game to demonstrate the state’s growing financial issues.

The Alaska Dispatch News reported that the game was unveiled Saturday during a forum about Alaska’s budget and economic problems.

“We face this paradox,” said Gunnar Knapp, director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “We face some really tough decisions as a state, but on the other hand, the topic is enough to put most people to sleep.”

Knapp designed the game so people can balance costs and revenue using a giant scale and wooden blocks that represent $100 million each. A roulette wheel keeps the game risky while showing Alaska’s dependence on oil revenue.

Participants have to make tough decisions like whether to remove blocks representing education and health care, or add weight by instituting taxes or tapping into the $51 billion Alaska Permanent Fund.

At the event Saturday people were invited on stage to play the game and the audience was encouraged to boo or cheer for the solutions they liked best.

The Alaska Legislature will face real questions just like that this spring, with an expected $7 billion in savings available to balance the budget deficit. That deficit is expected to increase, and some experts say the state’s savings could be gone within three years.

“I’m calling out anyone who has ever said this is simple, or peanuts, or doesn’t take any work,” said Cliff Groh, chairman of Alaska Common Ground, one of the event organizers. “They need to come and try their hands at this.”

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