Debt DIY: Va. Residents Invited to Balance County Budget

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Conservatives are fond of saying that if families can sit down at the kitchen table and balance a budget each year, why can't Congress? Starting Tuesday, one Virginia official is putting that problem back in mom and dad's hands.

Braddock District Supervisor John Cook of Fairfax County, Va., today released a tool that allows constituents to put together their own plan for the county's financial-year 2014 budget.

The simulation asks readers to look through the budget as was proposed earlier this year, plug in the changes they would make to funding for nine different areas and compare the outcome of their plan to the county executive's.

Fairfax officials are likely to raise property taxes this budget cycle to make up for revenue lost to the uncertainty presented by "sequestration" budget cuts.

The last page of the simulation asks users to determine how much they would have to raise or could lower the property tax based on the numbers in their budget. It then allows them to determine what they would pay based on the average home value for the area.

The last step urges users to share their plans via mail and social media.

Many states are looking for new and innovative ways to bring in revenue or areas to cut spending this year, as sequestration puts the ax to federal grants. New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada have all legalized online gambling in the past year. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will tax money brought in by the new enterprise by 15 percent.

Other states, like Massachusetts, are looking to raise existing taxes to bridge the gap this budget cycle.

There have been several budget tools like Fairfax County's for federal and local budgets over the years.

When the nation's capital was having trouble cutting $591 million from its budget for FY 2010, the Washington Post put together a more complex feature that allowed users to move figures up and down, calculating the bottom line and telling users "You have a deficit" or "Your budget is balanced."

The Center on Policy Attitudes and the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland have a program that allows users to design a budget for FY 2015. The New York Times' tool looks more into the future, showing how individual adjustments would affect spending in 2015 and 2030.