Finance Ministry approves budgetary aid for Jerusalem, ending months-long feud

Agreement to include immediate NIS 205 million infusion, fiscal coordination between ministry and City Hall.

Nir Barkat (photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Nir Barkat
(photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Following months of political mudslinging, culminating in a city-wide sanitation strike that left the capital covered in refuse, the Finance Ministry agreed to grant the Jerusalem Municipality NIS 205 million to balance its annual budget.
The move on Sunday night spares thousands of municipal workers from losing their jobs, prevents sensitive budget cuts and should put an end to the very public feud between Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat over who was to blame for the municipality’s budgetary woes.
According to the deal’s framework, an additional NIS 50m. will be allocated incrementally later in the year to an account to be overseen by the Finance Ministry in coordination with the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry.
In late November, the Finance Ministry granted an emergency NIS 100m. loan to aid the capital’s beleaguered business owners, whose profits have by and large been cut in half since the terrorism wave engulfed the city in October.
Additionally, the municipality and Finance Ministry agreed to create a joint staff responsible for formulating the criteria for allocating additional grants and emergency loans necessary to keep the municipal budget in the black for years to come.
After the agreement was announced, Barkat was effusive in his praise for both Kahlon and his political rival, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin.
“I thank the finance minister and his offices for understanding the importance of making Jerusalem a national mission,” said Barkat in a statement. “I also want to thank Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin for his help.
“Jerusalem is a top priority, and its development is not just for its own residents, but also for residents of the entire country,” the mayor added. “When we have a strong Jerusalem, we have a strong Israel.”
MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), a former Jerusalem deputy mayor who has worked closely with Kahlon in their nascent party to strengthen education and women’s rights, also praised the agreement.
“I congratulate the understandings that were reached between the Finance Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality to strengthen the city’s budget,” she said in a statement. “As a Jerusalem resident and former deputy mayor, it was important for me to ensure that Jerusalem’s residents would directly receive the funds that flow to the city’s education, communal and everyday life.”
Azaria noted that the agreement will give “Jerusalem the budget it needs, completely eliminating all the municipality’s budget cuts.”
“I hope that the coming year sees the wise use of the municipality budget so that it brings Jerusalem and its residents prosperity,” she added.
MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), chairwoman of the State Control Committee, said she was pleased the agreement was reached prior to a Monday morning hearing over further potential municipal and budgetary cuts.
“I am glad that this discussion has forced the two sides to sit down together to take care of so many citizens, and I believe it should have been done long ago,” she said.
The agreement should conclude one of the most bitter chapters in the capital’s recent history, during which Barkat accused Kahlon of abdicating his responsibility to the city, and Kahlon accused Barkat of grievous fiscal mismanagement.
Nonetheless, Barkat faced a tough crowd during a Monday joint meeting of the Knesset Interior and State Control Committees to discuss the budgetary debate.
Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud), who is chairman of the Interior Committee, lamented that there is not enough oversight of the additional funds going to the Jerusalem Municipality.
“They invest money in festivals and events while kids don’t have schools to go to,” he said.
MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) said that “some people are not impressed by Formula 1 races by the walls of the Old City.”
Elharar told Barkat: “When there are conflicts, work them out, don’t threaten to fire people and build piles of garbage.”
“I want to hear what happened between 2014 and 2015, so that now you need an extra NIS 200m.,” Amsalem said to Barkat.
Why did you decide to threaten to fire the garbage collectors, knowing the logical conclusion would be for them to go on strike? “What happened to that money?” Amsalem asked.
In response, Barkat accused Amsalem of looking for problems instead of solutions.
“We had a budgetary gap of NIS 200m., which would have meant firing 2,000 people, and I didn’t want to and did not fire anyone,” Barkat added.