There are three declared reasons for the most recent wave of local authority strikes: the cutting of NIS 1.8 billion from the allocations the government transfers to the local authorities; the non-renewal of grants and tax breaks given to 17 confrontation-line communities in the north; and the non-payment of salaries for several months to 20,000 local authority employees.
The interests of the local authorities and the Histadrut labor federation have converged: the authorities know now is the time to pressure the Finance Ministry to give them money, before the army claims every spare shekel. The Histadrut, for its part, has to represent the 20,000 local authority employees from dozens of communities across the country.
The heads of the local authorities, some of whom have only recently been elected and feel no responsibility for past debts, know that the more pressure they exert, the more public support they engender and the more money they will get. Whoever has not paid their employees for the longest period of time will get more in the end. That's what the confrontation is all about.
Somewhat surprisingly, Interior Minister Avraham Poraz took part in the emergency meeting of local authority heads, in support of their demands to cancel the cuts dictated by the budget. The same budget that passed a mere month ago, both in the cabinet and the Knesset, with Poraz's vote in favor. Why did Poraz vote for a budget that neither answers the needs of the local authorities nor the expenditures required for defense?
The truth is that even if the last cuts had not been made, the local authorities would have striked, because of their chronic deficits stemming from serially poor management. Not a year goes by that they don't strike, that they are not required to implement recovery measures, and that they continue their wastefulness. A good local authority head is not one who keeps to the budget. Rather, the more that is spent, the more associates to whom jobs are awarded, the better the authority head is considered. And damn the deficits.
Many council heads have increased the number of employees as if the economy were flourishing. Some in the Arab sector have turned city hall into the answer to the unemployment problems of their clan, thus creating layer after layer of inefficiency. On the subject of senior functionaries' salaries, the party goes on as if no one had heard of the recession.
Israel has 266 local authorities, 70 of which have fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. The Interior Ministry wanted to combine 150 of them, which would have saved a great deal of money, but political pressures pared the number down to 29, and even that has yet to be implemented. Annual savings of hundreds of millions of shekels went down the drain. Jobs and perks were more important to the activists.
Everyone knows that income from taxes will rise this year - Uri Yogev, in charge of budgets in the treasury, can't keep it to himself. Local authority heads hope their pressure will lead the government to send the additional funds their way that will solve their problems. Yogev says it will never happen, that the extra money is for reducing taxes and repaying debts. In order to give the local authorities NIS 1 billion for three years, as long as they present a recovery plan, the same amount has to be cut from the budget. The political battle has just begun.
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