MKs voted to give themselves a third parliamentary aide and agreed to reconsider their upcoming pay raise, at a Knesset House Committee meeting Tuesday.
The committee set the Knesset’s budget for 2016 at NIS 717 million following a presentation by Knesset director- general Ronen Plott. That’s a rise from 2014’s budget of NIS 612 million.
Adding a third aide, costing the Knesset NIS 20m., was the most controversial point.
MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) argued in favor of the staff increase saying that “when I entered the Knesset, I understood why lobbyists were a problem in the 18th Knesset – because the Knesset is too slim. It does not have enough professional manpower.
“There is an endless burden on MKs and committees. There is so much to do, and to take care of it all with two parliamentary aides who are also spokespeople, political advisers, schedulers and answer phones, cannot be done, while allowing us to fulfill our responsibilities. Budgets strengthening the Research and Information Center and external advisers for committees and a third aide for MKs is necessary, considering the reality, and it is in the public’s interest,” Michaeli explained.
MK Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) pointed out that he’s been an MK for 21 years, and while conditions improved, they are still “elementary” compared to parliaments he has visited around the world.
MK Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union) agreed.
“It seems reasonable. We all want another aide,” he said. “But no branch of government other than the Knesset has all of its whims come true. At this time, this sends a bad message to the public... It shows that we’re in a bubble.”
According to MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu), it was “distasteful” for the MKs to add a third aide, costing NIS 20m., after only a short discussion. He voted against the Knesset budget, despite being a member of the coalition.
“We have to decide what the Knesset’s jobs are. If it’s mainly PR and private legislation, then we might not need another aide. If we want to give the Knesset more oversight authority, then maybe we do need another aide. I’m not opposed to it on principle,” Folkman told Army Radio.
Another item increasing the Knesset’s budget is the Norwegian Law, by which a minister in each party can quit the Knesset to allow the next person on his or her party’s list to become a legislator and return to the Knesset if he or she is fired from the cabinet. It will cost the Knesset NIS 1.3m. per lawmaker. Thus far, only Bayit Yehudi has used the law, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett resigning as an MK to allow Shuli Moalem-Refaeli in. If four more MKs replace ministers, it will cost a total of NIS 7m.
The MKs also voted to add NIS 2m. to pay for public relations, and House Committee chairman David Bitan (Likud) said the lawmakers will form a committee to find ways to “explain to the public how hard MKs work.”
The budget includes an additional NIS 10m. for security, including bodyguards and armored cars for MKs who need them, and funding to expand the Knesset’s kitchens to allow them to provide 1,000 meals a day.
Parliamentary aides are expected to get a pay raise, and other Knesset employees, who have not received a raise since 2005, are expected to, as well. Their union is currently negotiating with the Knesset’s management.
In addition, the Knesset’s former building on King George Avenue in Jerusalem will eventually become a museum. The budget for that project is NIS 13m.
MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List) praised the budget item allowing for the Knesset Channel to be broadcast via satellite again, saying many Arab homes use satellite dishes and are unable to watch it.
UTJ MK Uri Maklev said that “when we authorize the state budget, we vote on tens of billions without knowing what they’re for, but the Knesset’s budget is transparent and detailed.”
The House Committee also agreed to reconsider a recommendation from July to raise their salesladies. The public committee that determines MKs’ salaries approved of the raise, and a new recommendation from the House Committee is necessary for them to change it.
Changes in how much lawmakers are paid are made according to the fluctuations of the average salary in the country. Because minimum wage went up this year, the average salary went up by 5 percent, and the public committee allowed MKs’ pay to follow that trend.
MKs’ salaries vary depending on how long they’ve been in office and what positions they hold. MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union), who opposes the raise, posted her pay slip online earlier this month. She has been an MK since 2006 and is not chairwoman of any committees, and makes NIS 40,000.29 per month, which comes to NIS 19,167.83 after taxes and other deductions.
Yacimovich said “MKs’ are the only ones whose pay changes according to the average salary in the market; 99.9% of employees don’t have that linkage and their salaries don’t go up... We are benefiting because poor people have better salaries.”
Another major opponent of the pay raise, MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) said that “in January, we are going to get money we don’t deserve... Today, only MKs, judges and the president’s salaries change according to the average in the market. What’s absurd is that, with this linkage, the more unemployed people there are, the more our salaries will rise.
That has to be canceled!” German submitted a bill to allow the public committee to decide MKs’ salaries independently, without the House Committee’s intervention.
MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) said he plans to donate his raise to the Israel Cancer Association in Dimona, and Bitan also said he would give the extra money to charity.
On Monday, the House Committee called to have the Knesset prefer products from the West Bank, Jerusalem, Negev and Galilee by 25% over other regions in purchasing decisions.
The committee asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring the proposal to a cabinet vote, as is required by the Tenders Law, within 30 days. Then, the decision would have to go to a vote in the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee.
Bitan said the decision is meant to combat the European Parliament’s vote in favor of settlement product labeling, as well as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
“If we are not united, how can we complain about the headlines in newspapers around the world presenting our police officers and soldiers as the aggressors?” Bitan mused. “I call on members of the committee to show the world that we are one nation, and when they harm part of us, they are harming all of us.”
MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) said the House Committee proposal is de facto labeling settlement products.
“We’re all fighting for the good of Israel and saying settlement products shouldn’t be labeled, and you’re doing damage. You’re saying it’s not a political matter, but it is. You’re only interested in right-wing voters,” Nahmias-Verbin told Bitan.
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) called the proposal “immoral,” and, turning to Bitan, added: “You’re super-popular in the Likud; you don’t need this.”
According to Meretz’s Michal Rozin, “the Likud is abandoning other parts of the country... there is serious discrimination over the years.”
Bitan responded that the country invests a lot in the Negev, and that the original proposal only included the West Bank because only their products would be labeled by the European Parliament.
The European Parliament resolution would also have products from the Golan Heights labeled.
“This matter is symbolic and will not harm the general public. The European Parliament decision mainly harms Palestinian workers. It is a major step against coexistence,” Bitan added.