Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday defended the tax hikes and budget cuts
expected to be passed by the cabinet later in the day, saying that
inaction would harm Israeli citizens. The steps he is taking, the prime minister explained at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, are tough but necessary.
Noting the economic crisis
in Europe in recent years, Netanyahu said that "governments who didn't
act in time, decisively and responsibly, caused great damage to their
citizens. I will not allow that to happen (here)."
The cabinet will vote Monday on whether to increase income tax for above-average wage-earners and raise the value-added tax by 1 percentage point to 17 percent.
The moves are part of a series of steps the government says will boost state revenues by NIS 14 billion next year.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz warned that if the Israeli economy collapses, it does not have access to the bailout funds that have kept European and US companies and governments afloat, defending the tax hikes and budget cuts the cabinet will vote on later Monday.
"We don't have the US Federal Reserve or the European Central Bank," Steinitz told Israel Radio.
Steinitz refused Sunday to rule out introducing further tax hikes later this
year on top of those announced last week, but said he hopes there will be no
need for such a move.
“This package is supposed to provide a solution for
dealing with the deficit, to protect Israel’s credit rating, its investments and
economy,” Steinitz told Army Radio. “We are dealing with the deficit so that
Israel will not end up looking like Ireland, Spain or Greece. We are doing this
now, because if we don’t we will end up paying much more in the
Should the tax increases pass in the cabinet Monday, VAT will increase
immediately by 1 percentage point to 17%. Starting on January 1, all income
between NIS 8,881 and 41,830 per month will be taxed an additional 1%, while a
flat 2% tax will be imposed on all income above NIS 67,000 per
Last week, Steinitz signed an order to increase purchase tax on
cigarettes, cigars and alcohol. He also announced that the government intends to
collect NIS 3 billion owed to it by large corporations, which were exempt from
paying tax for certain periods of time under agreements committing them to
investing in the economy.
Steinitz’s plan includes a NIS 700 million cut
in the budgets of cabinet ministries. Public Security Minister Yitzhak
Aharonovitch warned that the expected NIS 180 million cut in his ministry’s
budget would lead to “more violence and crime.” Union leaders in the health
industry called the Health Ministry’s budget cut “disastrous.”
Aharonovitch might end up voting for the cuts on orders from his Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman. And the health minister will vote in
favor, because his name is Binyamin Netanyahu. Deputy health minister Ya’acov
Litzman (United Torah Judaism), who runs the ministry, does not get a vote in
The Independence Party’s four ministers will meet on Monday
morning to decide how to vote. They flexed their muscles on Sunday, suggesting
that they might vote against the plan if cuts to the Industry, Trade and Labor
Ministry’s educational technology division were not restored.
Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon said that if the Education Ministry is
exempt from the cut, his ministry should be as well, because it also funds
educational projects. Nevertheless, Simhon and the other Independence Party
ministers are expected to vote in favor.
Channel 10 reported that Negev
and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom and Minister-without- Portfolio
Michael Eitan, both from the Likud, might decide at the last minute to vote
against the measures.
But the only definite no votes will come from the
four Shas cabinet members. Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai
demanded that the VAT be lowered on water, electricity, and
“Raising taxes will harm thousands of families in Israel, who have
already been hurt by the increasing cost of living,” Yishai warned on Sunday
Labor chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich released data compiled by her
office that show that 67% of the government’s planned tax increases are
regressive, meaning that the tax rate decreases as the amount subject to
taxation increases, thus affecting poorer people more than the
Yechimovich said the decision to raise income tax on the second,
third and fourth income tax brackets, while ignoring the highest bracket (NIS
41,830 to NIS 67,000 per month), imposes an even greater burden on engineers,
hi-tech workers and others who she said form the most productive segment of
society. She said the value-added tax increase would also enlarge the burden on
households, explaining that 27% of the income of the poorest 10th of the
population goes toward VAT, compared to just 8% from the richest
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu of “torturing the
middle class” and wasting its money on political deals and ministers who do
Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer reiterated his praise for
the government’s steps in a statement late on Saturday, calling them “necessary”
to deal with the twin threats of the euro’s collapse and the spiraling budget
“Given this situation, the prime minister and finance minister’s
measures are brave and essential for improving our budgetary situation in 2013.
They will enable us to manage the economy and support growth – to the good of
the country’s citizens,” Fischer said. “The Bank of Israel will continue to
conduct monetary policy that maintains price stability, supports growth and
guards the stability of the financial system.”
Tzvi Oren, chairman of the
Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations and president of the Manufacturers
Association, convened an urgent meeting of the federation’s presidium on Sunday
evening, to discuss how to deal with the imminent tax hikes.