AUGUSTA, Maine -- While Maine may be facing a projected budget deficit of more than $1 billion, decisions about how to spend taxpayer dollars aren't being made in a vacuum. Maine citizens have been turning to the Internet to learn about the challenges of balancing the state budget and submit their own budget proposals directly to Gov. John E. Baldacci.

Six weeks ago, Gov. Baldacci unveiled his online Budget Balancing Tool, which is available to the public at the state's official Web site. The budget site has received more than 500,000 visits since it launched, and Governor Baldacci has already received over 2,500 budget submissions.

The Web-based educational tool encourages Maine citizens to view the most current budget projections and create their own balanced budget proposals by adjusting expenditures and revenues through the interactive service. Users of the site can then send their budget recommendations and comments directly to the governor with the click of a mouse.

"I'm delighted with the attention the service has attracted so far," said Baldacci. "Our state is facing a difficult budget deficit, and we are including citizens in the process as we face the challenge together."

Citizens don't need be Internet experts in order to use Maine's Budget Balancing Tool. Visitors who use the site are shown the state General Fund budget for the next two fiscal years, including the current projected deficit of more than $1 billion. Citizens can balance the budget by using sliding scales to adjust both expenditures and revenues. Along the way, visitors can also compare the allocations of their proposed budgets with those of the projected state budget. When finished, citizens are encouraged to send their balanced budget proposals and written feedback directly to Gov. Baldacci.

The Budget Balancing Tool was developed free of charge to taxpayers through a public-private partnership with New England Interactive, the Augusta-based subsidiary of e-government firm NIC, which manages the state's official Web portal.

-- NIC