MKs applaud death of 'pork-barrel' bill

Speaker says legislation was Treasury attempt to undermine the Knesset.

dalia itzik 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
dalia itzik 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik's tour de force was celebrated last week, as lawmakers from across the political spectrum toasted the end of the Economics Arrangements Law. The legislation, which is actually composed of dozens of bills that are packaged together and has been passed alongside the yearly budget since 1985, has long been criticized as a pork-barrel law. "The Economics Arrangements Bill is an attempt by the Finance Ministry to undermine the Knesset. I will not allow them to make the Knesset superfluous," said Itzik, who explained that because MKs are forced to vote on the entire package of bills together, they do not have time to study the individual aspects of the bills and support measures that they find effective. During a series of meetings with the Finance Ministry, Kadima MKs Ruhama Avraham, David Tal and Eli Aflalo helped negotiate the removal of over 95 percent of the bill, only retaining legislation that directly pertains to the budget. Itzik then met with Finance Ministry officials to finalize the deal, by which the legislation that was removed from the Economic Arrangements Bill will be proposed to the Knesset as separate bills. MKs will now spend the coming months voting on the individual bills which propose vast reforms on a number of issues ranging from real estate tax to gas and energy companies. "This is only the first step. By next year we want to see the Economics Arrangements Bill completely gone and buried forever," said an associate of Itzik. "She didn't want the Knesset to continue to be just a rubber stamp of approval." With millions of shekels at stake, however, some have begun questioning Itzik's motivation. MKs from the Labor Party, which Itzik left two years ago to join the Kadima Party, claim that she wants to return under new party chairman Ehud Barak's fold. "She knows that Kadima won't do well in the next elections, so she wants back in to Labor," said one senior Labor MK. "She knows that getting rid of the Economics Arrangements Bill is a popular move that will make her look good to everyone." Sources close to Itzik dismissed the rumors that she was looking to change parties, adding that her efforts to get rid of the bill "make her look good because it is good." "She has done the public and the Knesset a great service. Knesset speakers have been trying to get rid of this for years and now that she has accomplished it, people are saying that it was done for politics," said one aide to Itzik. Finance Ministry officials, meanwhile, have argued that changing the bills from a package vote to a number of separate votes will only slow down the legislative process and allow special interest groups to intervene. "Once the committees have the bills, they can take forever to debate them. Lobbyists come in and represent the business interests, and the whole process gets bogged down," said one Finance Ministry representative. While the ministry requested that the committees complete debate on all the bills by December 31 - the same day that the 2008 budget is expected to pass - Itzik and her associates argued that it was impossible for MKs to research and debate the bills by that time. "The whole point [of why] we wanted to get rid of the Economics Arrangements Bill is because it is dozens and dozens of bills pushed through together, and most people don't even understand everything they are voting on," said the Itzik aide. "The committees will take more time, but not much more time, and MKs will be able to discuss before they vote."