(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
As the Knesset plenum convenes on Monday to tackle the arduous task of voting on the 2017-18 state budget and the accompanying Economic Arrangements Bill, MKs will be called upon to decide the fate of last minute budget cuts amounting to NIS 3.3 billion.
The cabinet approved Sunday morning to approve a surprise 1.25% (NIS 1.2b.) across-the-board budget cut.
The proposal was crafted by Finance Ministry officials in order to facilitate “priority changes in the state budget.”
The proposal, asking cabinet ministers to impose large budget cuts in all the ministries, was drafted late on Saturday night and was only handed over to the ministers hours before Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
“We couldn’t draft the cabinet’s proposal earlier because we needed to wait for the final Finance Committee meeting to end in order to know how much money is needed. The committee meeting only ended late on Friday and the government meeting was to be held less than 48 hours later. We had to work hard and fast on the draft on Saturday night so as not to delay the state budget this week,” Finance Ministry spokeswoman Lilach Weissman told The Jerusalem Post
According to the document, which took the ministers by surprise, among the budgets cuts are the Defense Ministry, looking at a NIS 168 million reduction; and the Transportation Ministry, which will have to give up NIS 156m., originally earmarked for transportation development.
The Education Ministry will be cut by an overall NIS 125m. from several departments, including about NIS 24m. that will be taken out of the higher education budget.
Municipal authorities will be cut by NIS 44m.; and the Public Security Ministry is anticipating a NIS 32m. reduction.
The Labor and Social Services Ministry will have to give up NIS 27m. and an additional NIS 72m. originally allocated for the National Insurance Institute. The Prime Minister’s Office is looking at a NIS 10m. decrease.
According to the proposal, the justifications for the cuts stem from the Amona evacuation, which was not originally budgeted in; the need to keep the Israel Broadcasting Authority active beyond its originally slated time-frame for closure and existing coalition agreements with the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties and Bayit Yehudi, for more than NIS 1 billion that are supposed to go towards financing haredi and religious-Zionist education plans, institutions and organizations.
According to the document, the new budgetary expenses for the Amona evacuation and post-evacuation arrangements will amount to NIS 67.5m. Nine million are to be transferred immediately to the Binyamin Regional Council in order to build infrastructure for the interim post-evacuation site and an additional NIS 15m. will be transferred to the council by the Finance Ministry for “special expenses” such as the construction of public facilities. The Defense Ministry is requested to transfer an additional NIS 3.5m. within two weeks to pay for interim lodging in guest houses for the evacuated families.
The Finance Ministry will also transfer NIS 40m. to the Interior Ministry, earmarked for “the long-term aid and rehabilitation of the evacuees who were permanent residents of Amona.”
While the cuts were approved by the cabinet – despite objections by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz – they will now have be approved again by the Finance Committee before making it to the state budget vote in the Knesset.
“The cabinet’s budget cut proposal will arrive to the Finance Committee table. Every across-the-board budget cut needs to be approved by a committee vote before moving over to a vote by the plenum, even if the cabinet agrees on it,” Finance Committee spokesman Eyal Kazir told the Post
Unrelated to the cabinet’s cut proposal, the Finance Committee did approve on Sunday, a different crossthe- board budget cut of NIS 2.1b. in order to finance the previously approved Savings Plan for Every Child bill.
The Savings Plan for Every Child bill was unanimously approved by the members of the Finance Committee earlier this month.
Despite some loud opposition to the Finance Committee’s budget cuts proposal, it received a majority vote and will be included in the state budget and Economic Arrangements Bill to be voted on in the Knesset plenum.
“The cut is going to be taken out of the ministries’ budget surpluses anyway. These are sums that the various ministries didn’t take advantage of during 2016 and were left over,” Kazir told the Post