Finance Committee passes budget by 10-4 vote

Kadima charges government made "scandalous decision," neglecting firefighters after last-minute addition of NIS 13m. for yeshiva students.

311_Netanyahu with firefighters (photo credit: GPO)
311_Netanyahu with firefighters
(photo credit: GPO)
Opposition MKs complained that the government had favored yeshiva students over firefighters, but despite their protests, the Knesset Finance Committee approved the state budget for 2011-2012 on Wednesday evening by a vote of 10-4.
The two-year budget is expected to be brought to the plenum Monday for its second and third readings.
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During the marathon hearings on the budget, MK Ya’acov Edri (Kadima) called on Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) to uphold his pledge that he would not hold the crucial vote to advance the budget if NIS 571 million was not added for the Fire and Rescue Service.
“This is a public obligation to save life, to which all of the committee members committed,” said Edri. “Backtracking on this obligation will pass a clear message of contempt and white-washing to the Israeli public.”
At the opening of the hearing, Gafni asked Treasury Budget Director Udi Nissan to report on his office’s plans to improve the budget for the Fire and Rescue Service. Nissan replied that although the addition to the fire fighting budget was not in the new budget itself, the Finance Ministry was committed to hand over the necessary funds in the coming months.
The added budget, which he said was hundreds of millions of shekels, would be transferred only after the Treasury completed a plan to improve the fire-fighting services.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) called on Gafni to set a specific date by which the entire fire services budget would be approved by the key Knesset committee, rather than allowing the government’s promises to remain vague.
But despite the vocal opposition, the budget sailed through the committee.
After the vote, Kadima MKs raised an eyebrow at what they called a last-minute addition of NIS 13m. to funds for yeshiva students.
“Netanyahu chose the yeshiva students and neglected the firefighters,” complained Kadima spokesman Shmulik Dahan. “This was a scandalous decision which is a clear and embarrassing message to the Israeli public, that Israel is being led by a cynical person whose priorities harm Israel.”
The budget for 2011 will be set at NIS 348 billion, while the budget for 2012 will rise to NIS 366b.
The passage of the budget was originally delayed after Defense Minister Ehud Barak demanded a NIS 6b. increase to his ministry’s budget, which had already reached an alltime high. But ultimately, the joint committee for the defense budget approved the existing budget, without Barak’s add-on.
Joint committee chairman MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) asked lawmakers to “support the budget as proposed, after both the Defense and Finance Ministries clarified that it is possible to realize Israel’s security needs within the framework of the existing budget.”
The only MK on the joint committee to oppose the defense budget was Ariel.
If all goes as expected, the defense budget for 2011 will stand at NIS 49b. and for 2012 will be approximately NIS 50b.