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The 2006 budget remained a hot election topic Monday as Likud Party head Binyamin Netanyahu claimed it was quite possible to get the 61 seats needed to pass the budget now on the table before the elections.
Netanyahu on Sunday had called on Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to help pass the budget he had presented last summer when Netanyahu was finance minister.
"Approving the budget will send a positive message about the strength of the Israeli economy," Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar said in a statement.
Sa'ar said he held discussions with heads of the factions of the different parties, at Netanyahu's request, which showed that the budget could gain the necessary majority.
A Likud spokesman explained that this would be attained by the 26 votes coming from the Likud, 16 from Kadima, 15 from Shinui, and the remaining votes from other smaller factions.
A spokesman for Shinui confirmed that the party was in favor of quickly passing the budget, while Kadima would not comment on the issue.
Kadima MK Marina Solodkin, who has never voted in favor of a Netanyahu budget, told The Jerusalem Post she does not support the policies of the budget but would listen to what the faction said before making a decision.
Both Meretz (five seats) and Labor (21 seats, including three Kadima members) said they would oppose the budget.
While the Knesset is currently on vacation and not in session until after the elections, the government can call a special session to vote on the budget.
A Finance Ministry spokesman told The Post that the issue was not on the agenda and that it was not prepared.
By law, because the 2006 budget was not approved in time for the start of the year, government operations are carried out on a monthly basis by dividing the 2005 budget by 12 and adjusting for inflation.
Contrary to Likud's reasoning, Prof. Rafi Melnick, dean of the Lauder School of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and formerly of the Bank of Israel, said delaying the vote and working off the 2005 budget was the responsible thing to do in order to maintain economic stability.
"The current scenario ensures that expenditures will be the same while income will be higher due to the growth of the economy," Melnick said. "Therefore fiscal policy will be tight, which is good in times of political instability."
Even after the elections, he said, it will take time for the new government to get organized and, therefore, for most of 2006 the budget will not be different.
"That's the practical reality, everything else is political spinning," Melnick added.
Shlomo Maoz, chief economist at Excellence Nessuah, dismissed this argument, however, and said that more important was the message being sent to foreign investors.
"We're in a good economic position now and investors are looking to see if fiscal policy will continue," Maoz said. "Approval for the budget would send them a signal that we are continuing with business as usual."
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report