Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gov't passes NIS 2b. across-the-board budget cut

(Jpost).Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had reason to smile Thursday night after the two managed, together with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, to push through a budget cut of NIS 2 billion in order to raise the Defense Ministry budget for the next two years.

It took days of intensive negotiation this week to reach the point Thursday morning at which all ministers other than Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz and Shas's cabinet representatives voted in favor of the 2-percent across-the-board cut.

"We had to rethink our set of priorities to accommodate the budget cut of NIS 2b. without hurting the recovery of the economy," explained a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office. "It was a difficult decision, but necessary."

All government ministries apart from the Defense Ministry and the Education Ministry will suffer the cut this and next year. It encompasses 20% of the cost of the coalition commitments made to the Likud and other parties.

The extra budget generated will be directed toward immediate concerns - NIS 1.5b. to the defense budget and an additional NIS 500 million to the Health Ministry to fund the national response to the global swine flu epidemic. The cuts will not, however, impact funds for Holocaust survivors, the elderly and the disabled, or national projects including adding new classrooms for pupils.

"The decision over the cuts affecting the coalition commitments was the most difficult," said the official, "but the parties have to understand that under every coalition agreement, there is a more important shekel and a less important shekel."

The negotiations revealed relative strengths and weaknesses among the key ministers. When Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar threatened to resign, a compromise was reached Thursday afternoon that the ministry's budget would now be cut in 2010, not 2009, and only by 1% - 75% less than had initially been proposed.