Mofaz denies politics motivated budget walkout

Over the past week, Mofaz has increased his political activity in Kadima, and has made clear he will challenge Olmert for party leadership.

mofaz good 224 88  (photo credit: Defense Ministry )
mofaz good 224 88
(photo credit: Defense Ministry )
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz's associates rejected charges from the Treasury on Sunday that his angry walkout from cabinet deliberations on the 2008 state budget was motivated by political considerations. Mofaz stormed out of the cabinet room when he saw that the Finance Ministry had broken a promise to him to restore a planned NIS 150 million cut in funding for the National Traffic Safety Authority. He left a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert telling him that the reduction was an example of national irresponsibility that he could not tolerate. Finance Ministry officials said following the incident that Mofaz's behavior was motivated by "political spin and populism." They said the cut was made because funding earmarked for fighting traffic accidents had gone unspent this year. Mofaz's associates responded that the money for fighting accidents had been allocated even if the money had not been officially spent. They said Mofaz had received a personal commitment in writing from Olmert that NIS 400 million would be budgeted for the issue, which has been Mofaz's top priority since he took over the ministry in May. "Any step taken can be connected to politics, but Mofaz has proven over the past year that the fight against traffic accidents is in his soul," a source close to Mofaz said. "Politics is not a factor here. We won't get into a war of words with the Finance Ministry. They just have to keep their promise." Over the past week, Mofaz has increased his political activity in Kadima, attending three different political functions, culminating with a mass rally of his supporters in Ramle on Thursday night. Mofaz made clear at the events that he intends to challenge Olmert for the party's leadership. In a comprehensive poll of 4,478 Kadima members published on the party's activist Web site Yalla Kadima on Sunday, Kadima members ranked the party's candidates for the next Knesset. Olmert finished first, followed by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, Mofaz and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit. With neither Dichter nor Bar-On expected to run for Kadima chairman, Mofaz positioned himself as the top challenger to Olmert, ahead of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who finished sixth in the poll. Dichter had two reasons to celebrate on Sunday. In addition to his second-place finish in the poll, he succeeded in adding NIS 500 million to his ministry's budget after initially walking out of the cabinet deliberations and calling the budget "humiliating." Labor ministers ended up being the least problematic for the Finance Ministry. Olmert agreed privately with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on a budget for his ministry. Finance Ministry officials later worked out a compromise on the minimum wage with Labor Party ministers that will help them deflect criticism from former party leader MK Amir Peretz.