Dalia Itzik .
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The government succeeded in passing the first reading of a bill that would allow for another two-year state budget, but the seams holding it together were strained, as key coalition members refused to support the legislation.
Critics blasted the government’s decision to hold such a crucial vote on the last day of the Knesset’s winter session, and complained that the format by which the government advanced a controversial decision was inappropriate.
“This is a sad day for the Knesset,” said Kadima faction chair Dalia Itzik.
“This is a perfect instance of the castration of the Knesset. The very person who was supposed to ensure that this does not happen to the Knesset is the same one who acts as if there is no longer a legislative authority – the prime minister,” she said. “In the past year, we have witnessed time after time changes in basic laws done at the last minute, through temporary orders that are in essence basic laws.”
Four Labor MKs and Finance Committee Chairman MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) voted against their own coalition’s bid to extend the temporary order enabling the government to operate on a biennial rather than annual budget.
After a number of Labor MKs, including MK Amir Peretz, expressed their discomfort with the proposal, Labor decided to allow its MKs freedom from faction discipline on the vote.
But even without the support of those five members, the extension of the temporary order easily passed by a vote of 53-36.
During a press conference held hours before the vote, Itzik and former finance minister MK Roni Bar-On (Kadima) attacked the decision by the government to extend the temporary order, which would permit the government to present a single budget for the years 2011-2012.
“This is not a political subject, this is not about Left and Right,” said Itzik. “They said that they are passing this biennial budget because the prime minister is afraid of being ‘blackmailed.’ What kind of an excuse is that?”
Bar-On attacked the concept on a more technical level, arguing that the original excuses for the first two-year budget – the global financial crisis and the short budgetary year remaining in 2009 after the general election – were no longer relevant.
Bar-On accused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz of falling in love with the biennial budget “because they no longer have to come and get the Knesset’s approval each time.”
Opponents of the two-year budget, including Bar-On, Itzik, and Meretz chairman Haim Oron, said the plan allowed the government to violate the system of checks and balances between the legislative and the executive branches.
Both opponents and proponents of the plan enlisted Israel’s candidacy for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to reinforce their claims.
Steinitz emphasized Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer’s support
of the plan, as well as what he described as the positive feedback Peter Doyle, of the International Monetary Fund, whom Steinitz said sent him a letter
Tuesday supporting the biennial budget.
Steinitz said that it is possible that in the coming years, “three or four additional countries will follow in our footsteps.”
But Bar-On also cited the OECD, claiming that the organization’s
official report had been more guarded in its assessment of the
long-term viability of the biennial budget, and criticizing the fact
that the only other state in the world that had such budgets was
“Bahrain, that paragon of democracy.”