Knesset budget jumped 75% over last decade
Israeli lawmakers, who determine their own spending, back fiscal package of NIS 606m for this year, including NIS 20m in cuts.
The Knesset's budget grew by 75% after inflation over the decade from 2003 to 2013, to a projected NIS 606 million in 2013, according to figures from the Finance Ministry's accountant general.
The Knesset's budget committee on Monday unanimously approved its budget - an 11% increase in spending from fromNIS 545 million in 2012. Spending is expected to grow to NIS 608 million in 2014.
In contrast to most other government bodies, which are assigned their fiscal allocations by the treasury, the Knesset has the privilege of deciding for itself what its budget will be. Its budget is approved by the budget committee, which is comprised of MKs from the House and Finance committees and chaired by MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud ).
A Knesset spokesman termed these increases "natural growth," a large part of which can be attributed to the big turnover of lawmakers after January's election. That resulted in large costs for severance pay for departing MKs.
Moreover, compared with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's previous government, fewer lawmakers are members of the cabinet, as Yair Lapid, now the finance minister, demanded a smaller cabinet as a condition for joining the coalition. As a result, the Knesset - rather than the government - bears the cost of their salaries.
The cost of paying the MKs themselves will grow to NIS 124.5 million, up from NIS 111.8 million last year. The 2013 figure includes NIS 32.2 million for aides' salaries and another NIS 13 million for field offices for MKs.
One area where costs are falling is for hotel stays and apartments for MKs in Jerusalem. The budget is slated to be just NIS 1.5 million this year, down from NIS 2.5 million in 2012 - a drop the Knesset says is due to the fact that MKs only took office in February.
In response to a question by MK Isaac Herzog (Labor ), Knesset Comptroller Haim Avidor said the Knesset pays five-star hotels NIS 550 a night to host lawmakers.
53 departing MKs
Avidor said a large part of the 2013 budget increase is due to the 53 MKs who are leaving the Knesset this year, requiring severance pay amounting to NIS 7.5 million. A departing lawmaker is entitled to NIS 38,250 for every year of service starting from his or her second year, up to a maximum of NIS 229,500.
Pension costs are due to rise to NIS 75.6 million this year, from NIS 66 million in 2012. Food and drink at Knesset functions will cost NIS 850,000, up from NIS 730,000 in 2012.
There are multiple reasons for the sharp rise over the past decade. One is that civil servants who provide services to the lawmakers have seen their pay increase under collective labor agreements in the public sector. But the salaries of the MKs themselves have also risen, in line with the rise of the average wage nationwide.
Another factor in the growing cost of operating the Knesset is the new wing of the Knesset building in Jerusalem, which was built after 2003. The construction was financed off budget, but its operating budget this year is expected to reach NIS 36.8 million.
Pension costs have also risen over the years. Moreover, since 2003, committee deliberations have been broadcast over the Internet, which added to computer and network costs. Lawmakers also decided to buy the Froumine building, the downturn Jerusalem building that was the Knesset's first home, and turn it into a museum, which has also added to the legislature's budget.
The Knesset spokesman dismissed reporting on the increase in the body's spending over the years as "populist" and having "no real significance." After discounting for inflation over the last 10 years, the increase in the budget is much smaller.
Measuring the rise in the cost of the Knesset is complicated. For instance, in 2003, lawmakers were budgeted to spend NIS 285.3 million, but apparently spent NIS 317 million. Taking into account inflation of 2.1% in the intervening years, the 2003 budget should be adjusted to NIS 346 million, making the 2013 figure a 75% increase. In nominal terms, however, the budget doubled over the decade.
More floor space
The Knesset spokesman also noted that over the past decade, the amount of floor space in the Knesset has more than doubled, to 50,000 square meters, due to construction of the new wing. That adds costs of about NIS 37 million a year. The Knesset Channel costs another NIS 22 million to operate annually.
Moreover, the Knesset itself now pays out NIS 76 million for MKs' pensions, which in 2003 were still part of the Pension Administration budget.
"There's no logic in comparing the Knesset's technology infrastructure to what it was 10 years ago," the spokesman said. "The Knesset has undergone dramatic developments over the last 10 years, and of course, its needs have grown accordingly."
Nevertheless, at least some lawmakers see the need to trim. After Ronen Plot took over as Knesset director general in April, Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud ) asked him to identify places to cut the budget. The result was reductions in nonsalary and other nonmandatory costs amounting to NIS 20 million.
"The budget reflects the need to cut costs on one hand, and on the other, the need not to impinge on operations," Edelstein told the budget committee on Monday. "We decided not to wait for directives from the treasury, but to examine the budget ourselves and cut items whose implementation we think can be put off and that we don't see as critical."
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