The Knesset's draft biennial budget was released Monday for joint Finance and House Committee's hearings on the state budget. It includes cuts in some personnel-related expenses and increases in funds for security and for the Knesset Channel, seen on both digital cable and satellite on channel 99, and on analog cable at channel 41.
The 2009 Knesset budget will be down from last year - a drop from approximately NIS 496 million to 487m. But in 2010, the spending will return to the half-billion shekel area.
The drop in 2009 is attributable to the size of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's 38-member cabinet - the Knesset personnel budget is calculated according to the number of rank-and-file members. The 82 backbenchers are the fewest ever, and the drop in the budget reflects that.
The Knesset Channel emerged as a winner in the struggle for additional funds, with NIS 1m. added to its NIS 19m. 2008 operating budget, and a second NIS 1m. to be added in 2010.
An extra 2.75m. will serve to move the channel's crowded studios from the former press area in the old wing of the Knesset building to more suitable facilities in the new wing, NIS 6.7m. will pay for part of the channel's digitalization and the budget for a technical adviser will be increased from NIS 70,000 to NIS 120,000. All-in-all, the channel earned a net increase of over NIS 10m. in the two-year period.
Another big winner was security - NIS 4m. was added to the approximately NIS 50m. already budgeted for the security of the Knesset facilities, after the Knesset Guard added positions in response to what were described as increased security demands. The budget for MKs' personal security was also increased, by NIS 1.2m.
It is the lawmakers themselves who will be tightening their belts to offset some of the rising expenses. A cut to the MKs' salaries saved the budget NIS 1.5m., while belts could literally and not just figuratively tighten with the planned NIS 230,000 cut to the refreshment budget for committee meetings. And while some international observers may have found MKs' abilities to communicate with the rest of the world less than satisfactory, the NIS 150,000 budget for foreign language courses faces a 20 percent reduction.
Nevertheless, the parliamentarians don't come cheap. Legislators' salaries will cost the taxpayer NIS 53m., with an additional NIS 61m. budgeted for additional MK-related expenses and 16m. budgeted for their vehicles and personal security. The price tag? Each lawmaker costs the taxpayer well over NIS 1m. a year