There is something vicious about the open-ended strike called by all of Israel's local authorities on Sunday. As if suspending food deliveries to the elderly or treatment for at-risk teens were the way to solve the local governments' most basic problems, which are decades old.
But the inherently unacceptable means through which the local governments chose to express their distress does not detract from the authenticity of that distress. As is his populist wont, Interior Minister Eli Yishai elected to extend discounts on municipal property tax (arnona ) to entire population groups, including, of course, more than a few of his ultra-Orthodox voters. It's easy for Yishai to be generous, since he isn't the one who pays the price of that generosity. The price is paid by the local authorities, which have been left without sufficient sources of revenue.
The ongoing erosion of the municipal tax base turns this tax into one paid by a small minority: Discounts have been extended to a growing number of people on the basis of considerations that have nothing to do with socioeconomic factors, leaving an ever-smaller number of people to carry everyone else on their backs. As Union of Local Authorities chairman Shlomo Buhbut pointed out, arnona has become like army reserve duty: A few shoulder the burden on behalf of everyone else.
It is no accident that Yishai champions the erosion both of local government revenue and of an equal sharing of the arnona burden. A draft law on the municipalities that the interior and justice ministries had labored over since 2000 is now sitting on his desk collecting dust. The fact that it provides for the most important reform of local government in the history of the state - Israel's local authorities still operate under British Mandate-era ordinances - is irrelevant to him. It's convenient for Yishai to continue his takeover of local government instead of bringing it into the modern era.
The distorted relationship between the interior minister and the local governments requires a major overhaul. The battle that the local authorities are waging with the ministry to repair this relationship, in part by getting the Municipalities Law approved, is thus of paramount importance. But an open-ended strike, at the expense of society's neediest members, is not the way to win it.
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