We are about two weeks away from something called the sequester. This is a law passed by congress to ensure that congress balance the federal budget by threatening major indiscriminate deep cuts on all government programs across the board – including defense.
Posts Tagged ‘budget’
Pro-Israel sources report that the axe on the US budget may eliminate $479 million for joint US-Israel anti-missile programs, namely David’s Sling and Arrow systems, in addition to another $300 cut in military aid.
The slash in aid would come on the eve of President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel, which has been dubbed “Operation Unbreakable Alliance.”
Senior Israel officials are aware of the possible reductions and are trying to figure out to deal with them, according to Israel’s Globes business newspaper. Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent visit to Washington may have been, in part, an attempt to convince Congressmen to dull the axe on funding for the anti-missile programs.
The threat of Israel’s Middle East’s neighbors plunging into anarchy and leaving Al Qaeda and Hizbullah in charge underscores the government’s concerns.
The United States currently gives $3.15 billion in aid, although a large part of it actually is returned to American defense firms that Israel is required to use for much of the equipment and technology.
Congress and the White House have another week until the March 1 deadline, when either the federal deficit is reduced or automatic budget cuts come into effect, which could totally upset financial markets and America’s credit rating.
Republicans control the House of Representatives and are using their power to try to crack the whip on government spending, both at home and abroad.
“So far as is known at this stage, the fate of the aid for missiles is not the fate of the current military aid. We have to hope that won’t be the final situation,” a pro-Israel source told Globes.
Aid to Israel is bound to be reduced in light of massive cuts in domestic spending that, according to The New York Times, will put 14,000 teachers and 4,000 air traffic controllers out of work.
The March 1 deadline also is well before Obama flies to Israel, and he may have to depend only on his oratorical skills to convince Jews in Israel and in the United States of the “unbreakable alliance.”
Now that the new Knesset has had its festive swearing-in ceremony, it is going to have to start finding ways to reduce the deficit. One option is to tax the public. A second is to reduce services. But there is another way: track down the big money that goes into inflated salaries and needless positions in the public sector.
The problem there results from the existence of large and still growing groups that developed over the course of decades courtesy of the workers’ committees. The basic right to strike, which developed in the mines of England as a means of ensuring workers received enough to get by, developed into a powerful interest group’s means of enriching itself at the public’s expense.
The examples are well known: port workers who received huge monthly salaries, by Israeli standards, of 30,000–60,000 NIS; workers at the Israel Electric Company who receive similar salaries and free electricity; employees of Israel Aerospace Industries who joined the Likud en masse and thus guarantee their chairman a place in the Knesset as a kingmaker in the ruling party, where he works to get them salaries and working conditions that are nonexistent in other industries.
These are only the most egregious examples. And yet, truth be told, the real big money is poured into the pensions of the defense establishment. Did you know that each year the State of Israel spends about six billion NIS of the national budget on the pensions of career servicemen? The state already has budgeted 260 billion NIS for career soldiers’ pensions in future years.
Why should a lieutenant colonel who retires at age 45 receive 20,000 NIS every month for the rest of his life? Very few such people were actually combat troops. A major or non-commissioned officer who served in an office at the Kirya or in a warehouse at Tel Nof and completed an academic degree in parallel can simply go home at age 45 and receive 9,000 NIS every month until age 120. Just this past year, the powerful IDF Veterans Association, which represents the interests of former career soldiers, made off with the creation of additional state-funded positions as a gift to future members.
Let’s go back to the new Knesset. Every month, the state will pay every Knesset member 38,000 NIS. Each of them will receive a 4,250 NIS budget for clothing per year. Why? A Knesset member must look his best. Of course. Each member also will be paid 27,500 NIS toward a cell phone every year. I, for one, pay 1,000 NIS.
Two of the new Knesset members, Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir, were among the leaders of the 2011 social protests in which they chanted, “the people want social justice.” Indeed. The gap between them and regular people is intolerable.
Take the example of Miri. Miri is a much admired teacher who lives in the south Mount Hevron area and travels to Gush Etzion every day to teach in a top school there. She receives 5,000 NIS per month from the Ministry of Education, much of which goes to paying for fuel to get her to work. Her neighbor, also a teacher, splits costs with her, and they take the shortest route possible, through Arab villages, in order to reach and teach the Jewish children in their classes. Why should they receive any less than a non-commissioned officer working at the Kirya or in a command headquarters? What about the nurses who are overburdened with stress and exhaustion until age 65, laboring away in a collapsing health system lacking staff and money? Why is there no money to employ more nurses and reduce the load?
The public needs to demand that the members of the Knesset look in the mirror and start off by cutting their own salaries by at least 40 percent, with additional, symbolic cuts, such as doing away with taxpayer-funded boarding at Jerusalem hotels. Their Knesset offices are outfitted with showers and comfortable sofas—they can sleep at the Knesset once or twice a week. Knesset Members Yitzchak Berman and Michael Ben Ari used to do that.
Once that is done, they will be able to move on to the next stage: putting an end to the injustices inherent in the public pay scale. Massive reorganization is needed. The way to do that is to raise public awareness; stand up to the powerful workers’ committees with the help of patience and public backing; and even take some unpopular steps, such as issuing corrective legislation to end the Labor Courts’ automatic support for strikes.
Can the Knesset members do it? Is it possible? Once they’ve made cuts to themselves, it will be much easier to cut away at the fat that is choking the budget.
Originally published in Mekor Rishon. Translated from Hebrew by David Greenberg.
Sderot Mayor David Buskila has announced that he will not eat again until the government increased the budget of the beleaguered town, well-known landing site of many of Hamas’s rockets launched on civilians from sites in Gaza.
Busika set up a protest tent in front of the Prime Minister’s residence on Wednesday, demonstrating on behalf of his town’s 20,000 residents.
Buskila accused the government of failing to provide more support for Sderot’s recovery, and said the government has come through with just 10 percent of the funding it promised to the municipality.
Sderot municipal employees went on strike on Sunday, rallying in front of the Prime Minister’s office, even before 80 rockets rained down on the region.
On Monday, US President Barack Obama said during a televised debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney that his visit to Sderot in 2007 had moved him to fund the Iron Dome anti-missile battery system.
The Interior Ministry has said it provided funding to Sderot, and that it is up to officials there to put it to good use.
The Central Elections Commission approved a budget for the upcoming elections on Sunday.
The commission chairman’s salary, drivers, security personnel, polling station ushers, vote counters and security guards will cost a total of NIS 246,781,000, an increase of over 40 million shekels from the previous election budget.
Sandwiches for volunteers who will man the poll centers will cost NIS 1,320,000 on election day, according to a report by Maariv.
On Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to dissolve the Knesset and declare early elections, which are expected to take place early next year.
In his announcement, at 8 PM Israel time (2 PM Easter), Netanyahu noted the stability of his government, which is expected to complete its appointed four-year term—a rare feat in Israeli politics.
Netanyahu pointed out that this stability enabled his government to enhance both the country’s security and economy. “There is only one way to preserve these gains,” he added. “We must continue to carry out a responsible policy.”
“I have concluded that at this time we cannot pass a responsible budget,” Netanyahu told the nation. “It is my duty as Prime Minister to put the national interest above all else, so I decided that the wellbeing of the State of Israel requires elections now – and as quickly as possible.” He added that Israel would be better off with a short election campaign, which would minimize the damage to its economy.”
The political class in Israel has been preparing in recent weeks for such a move on the part of the PM, due to the lack of progress on approval for the state budget for next year. Netanyahu said last week that until mid-October he would announce whether he intends to try and pass the budget, or to dissolve the Knesset and hold early elections.
Members of the Likud Knesset faction estimated last week that Netanyahu would declare early elections for next February, and that he had no intention of committing political suicide pushing through a budget that includes decrees and cuts and could harm his standing in an elections year.
Netanyahu planned to dissolve the current Knesset last May, when the Knesset plenum approved the first call on a bill to dissolve the Knesset and hold elections within three months. But before the second of three votes had come up, Netanyahu surprised everyone when he announced a coalition with Kadima. That coalition was short lived, lasting only some 60 days.
It is expected that once Netanyahu receives a new mandate – since he and the Likud are well ahead of their rivals in the current polls – he will move to pass the harsh budget no one dares pass before the elections.
Following meetings with the heads of the parties in the coalition, Prime Minister Netanyahu will be holding a press conference at 8 PM in Jerusalem on Tuesday. It’s believed he will be announcing early elections, perhaps to be held as early as February 2013.
If Netanyahu doesn’t call for elections, then he needs to start preparing to pass the budget for 2013-2014, something that sources say has not been worked on seriously.
By holding early elections, Netanyahu will miss the historic opportunity to be the only Prime Minister in Israeli history to serve his entire term. On the other hand, by holding early election now, Netanyahu will be going into elections from a position of strength, and not hurt by the political damage trying to get the budget passed might cause him.
JERUSALEM – Faced with the prospect of not having enough votes within his own coalition to ensure passage of the 2013 national budget, as well as a growing political rift with his defense minister, Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly considering moving up next year’s parliamentary elections from October to February.
According to Yisrael Hayom, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are trying to stitch together a revamped national budget that would feature a series of austerity measures aimed at reducing the country’s budget deficit and addressing the global economic slowdown. Israel’s annual growth rate has shrunk from five to three percent over the past year.
The economic downturn in European Union countries has adversely affected Israel’s mostly blue-collar export industry (canned foods, flowers, fruits and vegetables, glass, etc.), as thousands of workers in those fields have recently been laid off – mainly in towns across the Galilee. In the past month, the unemployment rate has reached nearly seven percent. On two positive notes, though, exports of products from Israel’s renowned hi-tech and biotech industries have remained strong and Standard & Poor’s recently gave Israel one of the world’s best credit and economic ratings.
Yisrael Hayom reported that the Finance Ministry’s initial call for 15 billion shekels, or more than $4 billion, in across-the-board budget cuts – featuring reductions in social service programs to children in need, mentally and physically disabled citizens, the elderly and poverty stricken families – will likely be reduced to 10 billion shekels in cuts. The Shas and Yahadut HaTorah parties have already informed Netanyahu that they would vote against any budget that includes cuts adversely affecting their struggling Orthodox and haredi constituencies.
For his part, Barak has waged a media campaign against Steinitz’s insistence on cutting over a billion dollars from the nation’s defense budget in the wake of the various security threats Israel faces from Iran and Syria.
This has only worsened the Netanyahu-Barak relationship. According to Israel’s Channel 2 News, Netanyahu has become frustrated with both Barak’s political demand that he retain his defense ministry post in the next Netanyahu-led government (if Netanyahu is asked to form the next government) and their differing tactics in managing Israel’s relationship with the U.S. (Recent polls show Barak’s center-left Atzmaut faction winning only two-three seats in the next Knesset if elections were held now.)
Netanyahu’s disenchantment with Barak has spread across his Likud Party. Likud members have blasted the defense chief for telling the international media that he would recommend that Israel execute a unilateral withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria despite no formal peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu was incensed with Barak’s comments to the American media earlier this week regarding his positive meetings with Secretary of State Clinton and other high-ranking White House officials. Yediot Aharonot quoted a senior Israeli government official who claims to have heard Netanyahu say, “He [Barak] traveled to the U.S. to actually stoke the conflict between us and the Americans in order to come off as the savior – the moderate party that reconciles between the sides.”
A number of Likud members have urged Netanyahu to immediately fire Barak and replace him with former IDF chief of staff and current Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon.
Even if earlier elections are called for February 2013, the Netanyahu government will still be one of the longest-serving Israeli governments ever.