En español | "I would hate to be in their shoes," Manny Perez, 63, of Corpus Christi, said about Texas' legislators.
He had a new appreciation for their work after playing a simulation game developed by AARP Texas to educate its members about the real-life trade-offs lawmakers must face to balance a $180 billion, two-year state budget with an estimated shortfall of at least $27 billion (PDF).
"For community-based care, rate cuts would essentially eliminate the supply of workers, pushing more people into nursing homes, which is more expensive for the state," said Bob Jackson, AARP Texas state director.
Materials given to players encourage them to contact elected officials and urge them to protect long-term care funding.
Without being told AARP's positions, Perez said when he played the game, most of the approximately 45 "senators" were hesitant to cut education or Medicaid. Perez, a U.S. Border Patrol retiree, also opposed cuts in criminal justice.
Strub, an AARP congressional district volunteer who is facilitating the budget games in the Dallas area, said his fellow players weren't big on raising taxes, given the no-new-taxes view of so many Texas legislators.
Some participants wanted to spend the rainy day fund. But no matter how they tried, the group couldn't erase the shortfall.
"I'm glad it was only a game," Strub said.
Kelley Shannon, a freelance writer based in Austin, has covered the Texas state government for the past decade.