Is this war?

With NIS 400,000 needed to balance the budget, Barkat’s decision is to fire hundreds of city employees – mostly cleaners and guards at education institutions.

MK Rachel Azaria
In an unprecedented press release, Mayor Nir Barkat has announced his immediate reply to the Treasury’s decision not to approve additional funds for the city’s 2016 budget.
With NIS 400,000 needed to balance the budget, Barkat’s decision is to fire hundreds of city employees – mostly cleaners and guards at education institutions – with significant reductions in human resources at the welfare administration, education administration and culture departments at Safra Square.
How did this happen? Sources at Safra Square disagree about how it all began, but everyone concurs that it has long been a reality waiting for an opportunity to burst out – and that it stems from personal positions and emotions.
There are two poles of influence in this drama, which for the moment is casting a shadow on the needs and rights of residents.
The first pole comes from the ranks of Kulanu, including veteran foes of Barkat, such as MK Rachel Azaria and former deputy mayor Kobi Kahlon (not an MK but the brother of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and very deeply involved in the party’s affairs).
Azaria is not trying to provoke any issues with Barkat; she genuinely cares about the city and its residents who, after all, are the bulk of her constituency.
Kahlon had no intention of continuing in politics, at least not in the front row as deputy mayor, a candidate for mayor or MK, although observers agree that he could have easily secured a place on his brother’s list. Kahlon genuinely wanted to go back to his own affairs after he served Barkat for more than one term.
Nevertheless, the two harbor resentment toward the mayor. Azaria paid the price of the mayor’s alliance with the haredim at city council, for whom she raised red flags. Kahlon, according to some of his closest friends, didn’t get the support he expected from Barkat a few months ago when he faced a corruption accusation (which was rescinded).
Neither of them had intended to blacken Barkat’s name in the eyes of the Treasury, but according to sources inside Kulanu, they apparently didn’t act as Safra Square had expected them to – as goodwill representatives of the municipality and its mayor at the Treasury. It seemed as though these distinguished former municipality representatives had totally forgotten where they came from.
“To say that Barkat felt a bit betrayed wouldn’t be far from reality,” a high-ranking municipality source told this reporter this week. A second pole causing friction is another veteran of Safra Square who is well-installed at the Knesset. MK David Amsalem (Likud), chairman of the Knesset Interior Committee, is not – to put it mildly – a fan of Jerusalem’s mayor. Not that Amsalem fears that Barkat, who recently announced he would be joining the Likud to advance his plan to reach the Knesset, might cast a pall over him; but as another Likud member still at the municipality stated, “By not supporting Barkat on this issue, Amsalem has sent his message of unwelcome to the newcomer.”
Therefore, one might say that the lack of support from these former colleagues may be a precursor of what awaits Barkat in the political playground.
What actually happened on the ground? Very little in reality, yet it had a tremendous impact.
Every year at this time, the municipality’s treasury department is busy working on the capital’s new budget, to be approved by the city council before the end of the year, after being presented and approved by the finance committee. For years the state Treasury has approved an additional sum of money to help the city balance its budget for the next year.
Considering the economic difficulties of this year – beginning with Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014 through the current wave of terrorism – Treasury support is more critical than ever. Yet the expected support did not materialize, at least as of this past Tuesday, and the vacuum created by the needed NIS 400,000 doesn’t seem to be getting filled.
In other times, perhaps, a different reaction would have been adopted, but Barkat – who recently publicly apologized to Moshe Kahlon for his personal campaign against him, due to lack of funding for special loans to help city businesses in difficulty – is back on the offensive.
On Sunday, Barkat sent a personal note to city councilmen, members of his coalition and high-ranking municipality officials, announcing that due to the Treasury’s refusal to approve the needed moneys, there is no other way but to prepare for the dismissal of large numbers of city employees for whom there is no budget.
No fewer than 200 employees are set to be fired by the end of this month, thus causing the cancellation of several projects – fewer cleaners in the city center and guards at educational institutions; significant reductions in budgets for disenfranchised and homeless youth; reduced city participation in parents’ school payments; a decrease of up to 30% in city funding to cultural institutions and projects; cancellation of bus cards for students from underprivileged families, of special programs for 400 needy families across the city and of installation of new public gardens.
Some at the municipality’s treasury department are less dramatic in their assessment of the situation.
“We’re talking about the capital of the state,” said one, “and my guess is that at some point, a solution will miraculously appear.
“Meanwhile, the turmoil is real, and has very negative aspects. I wish politicians would understand that there are some issues which should remain out of their games.”