Well, that didn’t take long.

On Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed that he wouldn’t take a dollar from education, health care, public safety or state parks “without first cutting the Waste Management Board.”

On Wednesday, Democrats on a joint legislative budget committee instead suggested boosting the waste board’s clout by giving it authority over a couple of environmental agencies that now report directly to the governor.

Just like that, the old Sacramento game of tit-for-tat, “if you cut my program, I’ll cut yours,” is back in operation. While it can be a good time for legislators – and governors – looking to score political points, it doesn’t solve California’s money problems very quickly, as the past few years of overdue budgets and unending partisan squabbling have shown.

But this year the state doesn’t have time for that sort of game playing. Just last week, state Controller John Chiang warned that the clock is ticking on California’s budget woes. With the state facing a July cash crunch, he called for a budget solution by June 15, which is a week from Monday.

“A protracted stalemate would do immeasurable harm to our economy,’’ he wrote in a letter to the Legislature and the governor.

You know, kind of like the “protracted stalemate” last year that set a new and not very welcome record for a state budget delay or the impasse that forced the Legislature into round-the-clock sessions earlier this year to come up with a desperately needed budget fix.

Some disputes are inevitable. When you’re looking at a $24 billion budget shortfall, there’s bound to be sparring over the dramatic cuts needed to staunch the flood of red ink. That’s politics.

But the full-out, to-the-political-death battles should be saved for the major issues where there are deep and serious divisions between Republicans and Democrats, issues such as education spending, welfare programs and prison reform.

As for the small stuff – and some of the not-so-small stuff – the legislators should just get it out of the way as quickly and painlessly as possible.

What if at the next Big Five meeting, the governor asked the Democratic and Republican legislative leaders to look at his budget proposals and privately write down the cuts they could support. Then exchange lists. Any cuts that show up on both lists get put into a bipartisan bill and fast-tracked though the Legislature.

Of course that would require both sides to be both realistic and pragmatic, qualities that can be in short supply in Sacramento.

The dirty little secret no one wants to admit is that there are not many places to find $24 billion in cuts in next year’s budget. If you eliminate the possibility of revenue increases, which is another can of worms entirely, that means that many, if not most, of the governor’s proposals are going to find their way into any final budget agreement.

Things like “borrowing” nearly $2 billion from cities and counties, shifting $60 million in tobacco tax funds from various heath programs into Medi-Cal and making $234 million in cuts to developmental services aren’t going to be popular, but if they’re ultimately going to be done anyway, it’s better to do them right away and bank the savings.

There will still be plenty left to fight about.

John Wildermuth is a long-time writer on California politics.