59 MKs expected to support budget in Knesset

Labor rebels, Shas ministers likely to skip vote.

netanyahu snarls at knesset 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
netanyahu snarls at knesset 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The 2009-2010 state budget will likely pass by a vote of 59 MKs in favor, 48 against and nine MKs not participating in the vote, according to a survey of MKs and spokesmen in the Knesset factions on Thursday. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz expressed confidence that the budget would pass all three Knesset readings and the Finance Committee by the mid-July deadline after every minister not in Shas voted for it in Wednesday's cabinet meeting. The budget is expected to undergo changes even before it is brought to a vote in its first reading. Fifteen MKs out of the 74 in the coalition are expected to not vote in favor. Shas's four ministers and one deputy minister will skip the vote and its other six MKs will vote against to protest a rise in Value Added Tax and the decision to start charging VAT on fruits and vegetables. All United Torah Judaism MKs will vote in favor. Independently minded Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich is seriously considering voting in favor of the budget, which was drafted in part by her political ally, Histadrut Labor Federation chairman Ofer Eini. The four rebel Labor MKs, Amir Peretz, Ophir Paz-Pines, Yuli Tamir and Eitan Cabel, will meet in upcoming days to decide how to vote together as a bloc. Sources among the Labor rebels said the most likely scenario was that they would absent themselves from the vote. "Even though the budget includes many things that are taken straight out of Labor's platform, and that we advocated for personally, we still don't want to support this government that Labor never should have joined," a source among the rebels said. Tamir and Peretz each have a personal stake in the budget that could prevent them from voting for it. The budget cuts funding for Tamir's New Horizon educational reform plan. It was drafted in part by three of Peretz's personal nemeses: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Labor chairman Ehud Barak and Eini, who succeeded him as head of the Histadrut. "The chance that we would vote in favor is very low," Peretz said. "The main problem with the budget is that it lowers income tax while raising VAT. That helps the rich and directly hurts the people who make the least amount of money. In other countries, children's clothes and fruits and vegetables are exempt from sales tax." Peretz also protested the 5-6 percent cut in ministries' budgets. He said that some 75% of the budgets were set and could not be changed, so a 5% cut affected 20% of the budget, at ministers' discretion, to help people. But Peretz did have good things to say about the budget. He said its overtures to labor unions would be positive if the changes it advocated were implemented and enforced. He also praised Netanyahu for insisting on dialogue with the Labor unions that led to changes in the budget ahead of its passage. Asked about Netanyahu's reported statement to confidants that Peretz would have led a six-week strike over the budget initially proposed if he had still headed the Histadrut, Peretz said Netanyahu had changed for the better since his time as finance minister. "Bibi has apparently learned lessons about how to play the game and how to pay the price," Peretz said. "He learned all the best tricks from me."