Corridors of Power: Battling the budget

A major crisis was averted after the government agreed to increase the city’s allocation by NIS 60 million

Barkat big face 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Barkat big face 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
There are all kinds of dramas. After the 18-day drama in Tahrir Square, one might think that nothing short of a palace revolution here could get our attention. But we are always on the alert, and what could cheer us up more than a nice juicy local scandal? Residents may not have realized it, but up until Monday morning this city was on the verge of new elections. Why? Here’s the story of the latest drama, play by play.
This column recently reported details of the campaign launched by Mayor Nir Barkat against the government in general and the prime minister in particular: Barkat spent NIS 1 million on a campaign calling on the prime minister not to neglect Jerusalem and to allocate more generous funding to the capital.
Another aspect of his campaign was the decision not to open the annual budget debates – a kind of poker bluff to see who’d blink first, the mayor or the prime minister. However, according to the law, a local council that has not approved its annual budget by March 30 automatically has to hold a new election. We are now in the middle of February, and even the smoothest budget discussions take at least a month or two.
“Barkat has been treading a very fine line,” said deputy mayor (and former head of the treasury committee on the city council) Eli Simhayof (Shas). “Until last night’s [Sunday’s] dramatic development, we were this close to dissolving the city council and holding new elections, which nobody here wants.”
Not that Simhayof is against the thrust of the campaign. On the contrary, he firmly believes that something radical should be done regarding the issue, but “in this particular case, it seemed to me that our chances of bringing about a change were too slim to take such a risk.”
Last week, Barkat even decided step up his campaign and suggested to his coalition that they invest another NIS 12m. to achieve the desired effect. And that’s where our mini-drama and very humble attempt at a revolution took place. Most of the coalition members rejected the proposal and warned the mayor about its risky results.
After all, who wants to be on bad terms with the powerful prime minister? “Barkat is totally right, but he just doesn’t understand that in politics, the rules of the game are different.
Whether you are right or wrong is less important; what really matters is how powerful you are,” explained a high-ranking official at Kikar Safra. “If Barkat had 300,000 of Jerusalem’s residents supporting his move and sitting in at Kikar Zion, perhaps someone at the Prime Minister’s Office would have reconsidered, but the masses all remained at Tahrir Square in Cairo, and we had no chance.”
Meanwhile, since politics is such a tortuous and unpredictable affair, discreet and quite serious talks were held between the executives at the Treasury and the municipal finance department. By Sunday night, the gap between the two sides was reduced from NIS 100m.
(requested by Barkat) to NIS 60m. (including NIS 40m. to support Jerusalem’s needs as the capital city). In addition, the government offered to fund a few projects, alleviating the financial burden from the city’s budget.
The bottom line was that by Monday morning, after the mayor made an official announcement that a painful cut in the city’s budget would mean a reduction of millions of shekels in the welfare, social work and culture departments, they ended up with a small cut of about half a million shekels for each municipal department. Peanuts! And what happened to the idea of changing the government’s attitude toward this city’s special needs? Well, that will have to wait for a real drama or revolution.