Mayor Nir Barkat leads a 2015 protest in front of the Treasury Ministry, against what he deems ‘unfair budget cuts’ by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Against the backdrop of a perfect fiscal storm following months of terrorist attacks in the capital, the Jerusalem Municipality announced Thursday it will be forced to lay off over 2,000 city employees due to a massive 2016 budgetary shortfall.
The edict follows weeks of very public feuding between Mayor Nir Barkat and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon over emergency aid for foundering city businesses, and Barkat’s repeated requests for a NIS 450 million infusion to balance the city’s budget.
While Kahlon approved a NIS 100m. bailout package in November for the city’s many struggling merchants, whose profits have largely been cut in half by the terrorism wave, Barkat’s demand for extra municipal funding has been repeatedly rebuffed.
The result, the mayor said on Thursday, is the immediate termination of 170 sanitation workers, and 2,000 more layoffs of municipal employees working in a vast swath of positions, including education and social welfare, across the beleaguered city.
In response, the city’s sanitation workers and light rail operators staged wildcat strikes Thursday in solidarity with their fellow workers.
“It’s an intolerable decision, but unfortunately we have no choice,” Barkat lamented.
“Making cutbacks on municipal requests affects social services, education and culture, and it means the layoff of thousands of workers in the city.”
“The refusal of the Finance Ministry to transfer funds to Jerusalem,” the mayor continued, “does not allow the city to continue to provide these services... We are forced to take this most difficult step and lay off the workers we need.”
Moreover, Barkat warned of more future layoffs if the ministry does not promptly aid the municipality.
“Without the transfer of government funds to Jerusalem, there will be no escaping more painful cuts that will further compromise the standing of Israel’s capital city, and will hurt each and every resident,” he said.
In a particularly stinging rebuke, Barkat inferred that Kahlon has abdicated his responsibilities to the city during one of its darkest hours.
“We were expecting that during a period of terrorism there would be wider support, rather than a cold shoulder,” he said.
For his part, Kahlon has said the ministry’s refusal to approve Barkat’s request for the NIS 450m. necessary to balance the municipality’s 2016 budget stems from Barkat’s alleged fiscal mismanagement.
Indeed, during a major protest in mid-November – when Barkat led hundreds of area merchants, residents and council members who blocked the entrance to the Knesset with garbage trucks in a desperate attempt to procure the funding – Kahlon said he held Barkat accountable for the crisis.
“Apparently Nir Barkat’s Jerusalem Municipality suffers from serious managerial problems, otherwise there is no explaining how they’ve wasted the money allocated to them in recent years,” he said.
“The Finance Ministry will continue to develop and advance the city along with Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin,” he added, regarding Barkat’s recently appointed political rival.