Ministers face Solomonic dilemma on budget cuts

Rumors of drastic cuts come a day after Kadima ministers blast MKs for passing series of laws that place untenable burden on nat'l budget.

Bar-on fed up 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Bar-on fed up 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Cabinet ministers on Sunday are likely to face a Solomonic choice if Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On gets his way and forces them to choose which government services will be targeted for cut-backs in the 2009 state budget. Thursday's rumors of drastic budget cuts came a day after Kadima ministers, including Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, blasted MKs for passing a series of laws that placed an untenable burden on the national budget. Although the Finance Ministry had already begun threatening to call lawmakers to account for adopting what Sheetrit deemed "populistic" bills before Wednesday's Knesset session, the talk grew tougher following the Knesset's anti-coalition legislative romp. In response to the additional expenditures entailed by the private member's bills, Bar-On is likely as early as Sunday to offer the cabinet a choice on where the cuts would come - either from the defense budget or from social welfare and education. Turning the decision over to the ministers will force members of the coalition - particularly Bar-On's political opponents in the Labor Party - to take a certain amount of responsibility for hard choices, rather than simply blaming painful cuts on the Kadima-run Treasury. Either choice is likely to provide fuel for the government's enemies on the Right and the Left. However, many of the bills that were passed on Wednesday will not take effect in time to be taken into consideration for the Economic Arrangements Bill that will accompany next year's state budget. Among them are bills to encourage bicycling, support tax credits for child care, and extend maternity leave by two weeks. All three only passed their first readings on Wednesday, the final day of the Knesset's summer session, meaning the earliest that they could pass second and third (final) readings will be after the Knesset reconvenes in late October. And a number of the bills that did pass final readings and become laws are likely to find themselves canceled in the Economic Arrangements Bill. A few weeks ago, rumors begun to fly surrounding the likely cancelation of social welfare-related legislation from both this summer session and the previous winter session. But the Economic Arrangements Bill - like the 2009 state budget - will not be approved without a fight. A wide range of interest groups and MKs from different parts of the political spectrum have already begun forging a united front to wage war against the rumored cuts.