Budget battles

A battle over budget transparency is part of the growing trend to demand greater openness from the Tel Aviv Municipality.
Late last year, for the first time ever, the Tel Aviv Municipality posted a draft of its budget for the coming year on its website. The city commands an enormous annual budget of NIS 4.24 billion, which covers everything from paving streets and bike lanes to paying the salaries of municipal employees.
The document provides a detailed list of the city’s spending priorities. However, spread over almost 1,000 pages, on three dense pdf files, it was hardly an easy read. Ir Likulanu (City for All), a party on the city council, submitted a motion requesting that the budget be published in a more accessible format, one which would allow for easier analysis.
As proof that this was a reasonable demand, party activists pointed toa directive issued by President Barack Obama just one day after hisinauguration, requiring US government agencies to “publish informationonline in an open format that can be retrieved, download, indexed andsearched by commonly used web search applications.”
Theirmotion, however, was rejected by the city council, which on December 28of last year approved the municipal budget for 2010.
Ir Likulanu, along with the Movement for Freedom of Information,responded by taking the city to court, demanding that it release thebudget data in a more open format (such as an Excel file).
The Tel Aviv Municipality responded that the budget in its pdf formwas, in fact, easy and convenient to use, that its publicationfulfilled the letter of the law and that, for technical reasons, it wasnot possible to publish the budget in any other form.
In early April, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Oded Mudrik granted themunicipality thirty days to reassess whether it has the technical meansto release next year’s budget in a more open format, suggesting duringthe proceedings that an “enlightened” municipality should be able tomeet this goal.