Posted: 11/22/2009 07:01:44 PM PST

Now, just a few months after the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed on yet another budget revision, the Legislative Analyst’s Office tells us that we’re in the hole once again – to the tune of $21 billion over 18 months.

Will the red ink never stop drowning us? Well, no, it won’t, not until our leaders – and we voters – get realistic about balancing revenues and expenses.

Until some happy future day when the citizen commission just formed redraws legislative districts so that more pragmatic moderates of both major parties can get elected, we can’t look to members of the Legislature to get together on this and talk turkey.

Whatever the best solution is – and, in this economy, it surely mostly involves the slashing part rather than adding to the tax burden – the best way to get to it would involve the parties working together toward compromise. In dysfunctional Sacramento, that’s a pipe dream.

Some of the cost-side solutions that make sense to us do not involve big cuts to California’s best investment, education, either higher or K-12, but most certainly do involve cuts to our incredibly inefficient prison system. We spend as much on housing felons as we do on education. In the midst of an ongoing recession and an employment picture even worse than the rest of the nation’s, we can’t afford to spend $49,000 a year to incarcerate each and every prisoner. That’s more than twice the national average. A quick fix while we work to negotiate down guards’ salaries and pensions, eliminate mandatory sentencing rules that hamstring judges, fund cheaper halfway houses and lower construction costs: Send more prisoners to other states, which will be glad to take them for a price, and one that beats what we currently spend.

We also very much take to heart the kind of comment local Republican Assemblyman Curt Hagman made when the extent of the new budget crisis became known: “Caltrans bought a whole new fleet of vehicles when they have an old fleet just sitting there. We need to redefine those budgets and the way they do business. And it may include eliminating some state jobs,” Hagman said.

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