2017-2018 state budget passes first Knesset vote

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu praises the new budget before the cabinet debate yesterday. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu praises the new budget before the cabinet debate yesterday.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Knesset voted in favor of the 2017-2018 state budget in a first reading Monday night.
Over the next two months, the Knesset's committees will work to prepare the budget for its final draft, which must be approved by December 31, or an election will be called, unless the government requests an extension until March.
Presenting the budget in the plenum, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said he “tried to divide the budget in the way that is most fair and just.”
The total budget for 2017 is NIS 359.7 billion, and for 2018 it is NIS 376.7b.
The proposed budget includes a cut of 2.5% for all ministries and a decrease of corporate taxes by 2%.
The income tax rate for medium- to low-level earners will be reduced to a total of NIS 3b., a policy Kahlon described as “the weak getting more for the first time.”
The defense budget is expected to increase by 5.3%, or NIS 9.5b., and the health budget will get a NIS 9b. boost, including NIS 500m. toward the medicine basket. An additional NIS 20b. is set to go towards housing, NIS 14.3b. to transportation, NIS 2b. to education and NIS 1.7b. for welfare.
Presenting the budget as an expression of the government’s priorities, Kahlon emphasized his goals of closing social gaps, continuing economic growth and making Israel a good environment for investments.
“People are people, citizens are citizens, everyone is the same to me,” he said.
Kahlon touted his policies from the last budget meant to help children, including increased child allowances, which he said fights poverty, creating a savings account for every child, from which they will receive NIS 20,000 as adults, as well as his decision to raise the pay for IDF soldiers in mandatory service, which he said IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told him brought higher enlistment rates.
“There’s nothing more heartwarming than that,” Kahlon said.
The finance minister also talked about how much he enjoys his job, despite it being considered one of the more thankless ones in Israeli politics.
“There isn’t a greater privilege than to wake up in the morning and know that I am doing something for the citizens of Israel - all citizens, Jewish, Arabs, settlers, kibbutzniks, everyone. It’s great fun,” he said.
The opposition slammed the budget, saying it does not address Israeli citizens’ needs.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said: “The government isn’t interested in people’s lives.”
“The government’s considerations are numbers and costs, but there is no talk about meaning,” she argued. “The question is what Israeli democracy will look like, when it is under attack from a paranoid and hysterical prime minister...
who is shaking the entire budget for his cynical political interests.”
MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union) said the budget is most notable for what it is missing: “It doesn’t close gaps, invest in market growth, education or the North. It has no vision, no good news, no solution for the housing crisis, no solution for public transportation and no strengthening public health.”