Ministers, groups oppose NIS 2 b. in cuts

Netanyahu to present NIS

Cabinet ministers, economic and welfare organizations on Tuesday blasted plans by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to cut NS 2 billion from the state budget to cover the cost of swine flu shots and security-related expenses. On Thursday, Netanyahu and Steinitz are expected to present the cabinet with their decision to cut the NIS 2b. The cut, which equals some 2 percent of government offices' funding from the 2009-2010 state budget and affects almost every ministry, comes as a surprise to many cabinet ministers, after the Knesset already approved the two-year budget for 2009 and 2010 on July 15. According to the draft proposal, NIS 750 million in spending agreed upon as part of the coalition agreements will be cut, representing 20% of the commitments. The plan proposes a one-off cut of NIS 300m. taken from the budgetary additions promised to yeshivot and another NIS 100m. to be cut from funds promised to Shas, Habayit Hayehudi and other religious parties. In addition NIS 1.2b. will come from cuts across almost all ministerial budgets. On Wednesday, Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni will meet with Steinitz to discuss the planned cuts. "Netanyahu is spitting into the face of the average person. Netanyahu prefers to hurt the education of Israeli pupils, the welfare of its citizens, rather than the budgets for ministers without portfolios and unnecessary ministries," a Kadima Party representative said. "This is another step the current government is allowing that will hurt the middle class and hit the disadvantaged groups in the population." According to the proposal, NIS 500m. of the money saved by the cuts will be used to pay for preparations for a possible swine flu outbreak over the winter, and NIS 1.5b. for security expenses, including intelligence gathering, preparing the home front, and purchasing supplies. "The Finance Ministry is on the way to make a great mistake, bringing us back to the days of confrontation instead of negotiation," said Shraga Brosh, chairman of the Organization of Economic Organizations. "Not one shekel will be cut from the budgetary additions agreed upon under the economic package." Brosh is one of the three members of the so-called economic roundtable, together with Histadrut Labor Federation Chairman Ofer Eini and Steinitz. Back in May, the three men agreed to an economic package deal as part of the 2009-2010 state budget, which would, among other things, secure industrial quiet. Brosh emphasized on Tuesday that under the coalition agreement between the Likud and the Labor Party, it was determined that the government will present social and economic changes to the roundtable before making decisions and taking actions to advance changes. "The planned cuts are not in line with the agreements of the roundtable, which were reached only three months ago," he said. Brosh added that many of the growth-enhancing budgetary subsidies for business, such as for R&D, investment, construction and tourism, which were agreed upon under the package deal, have not yet been transferred by the Treasury. Meanwhile, the Women's Budget Forum said the government's proposed budget cut would mainly hurt women, as the plan is expected to damage the quality of welfare and social services - education, welfare and health - which are mainly used by women, while making it more difficult for women to participate in the labor market.