Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz Photo by Tess Scheflan
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Members of the Knesset Finance Committee are demanding a NIS 3.15 billion boost in funding for pet causes, primarily the reversal of a planned freeze in social welfare payments and an increase in tax benefits for investment in outlying areas.

In return, the MKs say they will vote in favor of the 2011-2012 state budget and the accompanying Economic Arrangements Law.

The committee members are also demanding more power, such as the authority to set water prices, and are calling on the treasury to cancel several of its proposals and increase various budget allocations.

The money needed to meet the MKs' demands will have to come from the budgetary reserves or further cuts elsewhere. Another alternative is for the treasury to plan to use tax revenues that exceed present estimates.

Some two-thirds of the money the Finance Committee is seeking - around NIS 2 billion - would go toward reversing the freeze in National Insurance Institute allowances scheduled for next year and increasing tax breaks for investment in outlying areas.

Another NIS 300 million would go for canceling the proposed increase in the television licensing fee, and NIS 200 million would go toward firefighting. NIS 150 million would be allotted for older, married yeshiva students who learn Torah full-time.

The committee was supposed to vote on the budget and Economic Arrangements Law last week, but committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ) has yet to schedule such a session. Knesset sources say no date will be set until the treasury reaches an agreement with committee MKs.

The vote in the Knesset plenum on the second and third readings of the budget and Economic Arrangements Law are scheduled for December 28 and 29.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz will hold a meeting of coalition MKs who are members of the Finance Committee in the next few days to convince them to reduce their budgetary demands, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with these MKs next week.

Netanyahu, Steinitz and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias will also meet this week in an attempt to reach an agreement over helping couples buy their first home.