Budget faces tough road ahead, MKs say

Although the 2006 State budget has been laid on the Knesset table, it has a long way to go until it is laid to rest, said a spokesman for the Finance Committee Tuesday. The budget, which was presented to the Knesset last week by Finance Minister Ehud Olmert, has yet to go through a first reading. In the past, the first reading and vote are approved quickly, so that the budget can be passed to the Finance Committee where objections and changes are made. The budget then returns to the Knesset for a second vote, after which the Finance Minister may make suggestions or changes, and lastly a third, and final, vote. This year, however, various MKs have said that they would not allow the bill to pass even the first reading. On Monday, MK Uzi Landau (Likud) said that he would investigate every step of the budget during the first reading. His statement may lead other rebel Likud MKs to take a similar line, although it was former finance minister Binyamin Natanyahu, the main rival of the prime minister, who drafted the budget that Olmert presented. "Shinui will not vote for the budget," added opposition leader Tommy Lapid. "We are the opposition and we are opposed to anything the government brings forth." On Tuesday, several reports were made by Shas MKs, and it remained unclear how they would vote on the budget. If the budget did pass the first reading, it would surely receive a thrashing in the Finance Committee, said the committee spokesman, as many MKs had already submitted that they had changes and suggestions to make. Those changes may be even further complicated due to the composition of that committee, he added. Of the seven Likud MKs that sit on the 19-member committee, five are part of the rebel group that opposed Sharon's disengagement plan. MKs Ayoub Kara, Michael Ratzon, and Ehud Yatom all sit on the committee and voted against Sharon's first round of ministerial appointments Monday. MKs Michael Gorolovsky and Haim Katz are also considered part of the rebels, but they voted for the ministerial appointments. In addition, there are three Labor MKs on the committee, who may represent Labor's proposal of a NIS 4 million poverty plan. "That plan is nonsense," said the Finance committee spokesman. "That is a huge sum of money that we simply don't have. That proposal, and the people that backed it, are just political statements to get favor with the press." The current budget for 2006 has been proposed as NIS 284 billion. Of that, NIS 34.5 has been allocated to the IDF.