Ministers split over budget allocations

The Welfare Ministry came out of the discussions a substantially wealthier office, after receiving an increase of approximately NIS 1.87b.

Sunday's 2008 budget vote had winners and losers, with some ministers emerging from the meeting satisfied with their allotments and others demanding more. A total of NIS 217.8 billion of the record NIS 312b. state budget has been earmarked for regular spending, NIS 34.6b. for debt repayment and the remainder for development and investments. Tax revenues are also expected to hit an all-time high next year, at NIS 194b. The largest single expenditure in next year's budget is that of the Defense Ministry, which stands at NIS 50.5b. following Sunday's cabinet vote, including NIS 1.2b. added over the course of the meeting. "While this is a nice addition, in order for the country to be properly able to defend itself, the government needs to allocate even more towards defense and security," said Defense Minister Ehud Barak following the meeting. The Education Ministry has the next largest ministerial budget, having been allocated NIS 33.8b. for 2008, a substantial NIS 3.3b. increase above 2007. According to the Finance Ministry, the additional funds will be slated for a rise in teachers' salaries and an incentives package for them, and an attempt to curb the brain drain. The Welfare Ministry came out of the discussions a substantially wealthier office, after receiving an increase of approximately NIS 1.87b. The additional funds, said ministry officials, will be used towards increased aid to the elderly, polio victims and Holocaust survivors. The Public Security Ministry also received a substantial addition, receiving an increase of NIS 500 million, after Minister Avi Dichter initially threatened to vote against the budget because of what he called the "humiliating" allocation for internal security and police. After initially being faced with steep cuts to its budget, the Absorption Ministry instead was given a NIS 40m. increase, bringing its total budget for 2008 to NIS 1.4b. "While we would obviously like more, this is something that we are happy with," said an Absorption Ministry official. The Agriculture Ministry meanwhile, was awarded an additional NIS 50m., bumping its 2008 budget to NIS 940m. Meanwhile, despite an increase of NIS 360m. for his ministry, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai voted against the budget, claiming it ignores the needs of the country's most vulnerable citizens. "The current budget, as it stands, is detached from the needs of society, exacerbates social inequalities and alienates the underprivileged public," he said. Industry, Trade and Labor officials told The Jerusalem Post that even with the increase in funds, they expect their budget to come to only NIS 3b. in 2008, down from NIS 3.2b this year. The Industry, Trade and Labor officials said they are planning to focus budgetary spending next year on increasing the numbers of single parents in the work force; on developing more professional training centers across the country; and allocating more funds to the chief scientist's office, however officials expressed disappointment that they don't expect to be able to achieve their goals following the slashing of their budget. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz also voted against the budget, walking out of the meeting after discovering that NIS 150m. that had been earmarked to fight traffic accidents next year was postponed until 2009.