Specter of coalition crisis looms over state budget

Israel Beiteinu might boycott vote over its IDF conversions bill; Likud MK says she’ll buck party discipline over housing benefits.

knesset plenum (photo credit: Channel 99)
knesset plenum
(photo credit: Channel 99)
Two days before the cabinet is expected to vote on the 2011-2012 state budget, tensions within the coalition rose on Monday as reports spread that Israel Beiteinu was threatening to skip the vote, and at least one Likud MK said she would not support her own party’s fiscal plan.
Despite Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman’s assurances to the contrary, reports spread on Monday evening that his faction was threatening to boycott the budget vote if its IDF conversions bill were not brought before the House Committee on Tuesday.
RELATED:Netanyahu announces that cabinet will pass budget NIS 300m. added to firefighting budget
In a faction-meeting-turned-press-conference on Monday afternoon, Lieberman said that his party was “not looking for reasons to create a crisis, but we will not give up on the interests we represent, our constituency, or our beliefs.
“There is no contradiction between what I said since becoming foreign minister and the coalition agreement Israel Beiteinu signed with Likud,” he continued. “So I hope no one is looking for reasons for complications and problems and everything will go as planned with the budget.”
The conversions bill was supposed to be debated by the House Committee last week, but vanished into the Knesset scheduling ether.
Israel Beiteinu officials denied the reports about a possible boycott, but did say there were “contacts” under way with faction leaders to determine when a hearing on the bill would be held.
During a Likud faction meeting on Monday evening, MK Miri Regev announced that she would not vote in favor of the national budget.
“Unfortunately, in the course of the past year, I have tried to advance housing benefits for young couples through meetings with Treasury representatives, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office, but all of my attempts have failed,” she explained. “The biennial budget offers no solution to the painful problem of housing for young couples.”
Regev said that she had considered her move for a while, understanding that a vote against the budget would constitute a vote of no-confidence in the government.
“I support the Likud government, which is clearly better than any other government. The Likud is my home, and the home of hundreds of thousands like me, the Likud that has always been led by the flag of its social agenda,” she said.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu) complained on Monday that a planned cut to his ministry’s budget would undermine efforts to increase public security.
“The current [draft state] budget will join a long line of cuts that were placed upon the ministry, adding up to over NIS 500 million. The significance of those cuts is serious damage to the ministry’s planning, and even to the operational ability and planning of the bodies that are under the ministry, including key projects in the fields of forensics, technology, safety and others,” Aharonovitch said.
Meanwhile, the defense budget grew retroactively on Monday, when the Finance Committee approved a NIS 420m. addition to the 2010 defense budget. The money was taken from budget surplus funds earmarked for mortgage subsidies in the Construction and Housing Ministry.
Meretz chairman Haim Oron complained that the defense budget had grown by NIS 12 billion, to a total of NIS 61b., in the current year, while the original plan had been for a NIS 49b. defense budget in 2010. Transfers outside of the budget framework to the defense budget totaled NIS 2.5b. this year.
Oron asked that Treasury representative Eyal Epstein detail why the defense budget had so drastically expanded in the current fiscal year, but Epstein refused to answer Oron’s question out loud, instead approaching the veteran MK and whispering the answer in his ear.
MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) suggested that Epstein’s reluctance to explain the details out loud was due to his presence, and offered to leave the room.
“The Treasury plans in advance hundreds of millions of shekels each year for subsidizing mortgages, knowing full well that they will not be used. That way, at the end of the year, they can pass on the funds to other goals, using the excuse of under-use of funds,” complained Oron, who has served on the Finance Committee for more than 20 years.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) suggested that instead of transferring funds to the defense budget, the government should instead redirect the unspent money toward acquiring housing for young couples and for weak sectors of the population.