Barak, Netanyahu - Dec 2011
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a visit to an army base in Dec. 2011.. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Two of the central recommendations made by the Trajtenberg committee on socioeconomic reform - free preschool education and longer school days - are unlikely to become part of the 2012 budget. The reason is an upcoming decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to cut the defense budget in 2012, and most likely not at all in the four years to follow. The Trajtenberg committee based its funding for a number of social programs on the savings from a NIS 3 billion cut in defense next year, and in each of the four subsequent yearly budgets.

Netanyahu is expected to announce his decision within a few weeks.

The Finance Ministry expects, based on discussions between senior treasury officials and Netanyahu over the past few weeks, the prime minister to backtrack on his previous decision to cut the defense budget over the next five years. Treasury officials believe Netanyahu is delaying his announcement to the public on the matter for various reasons.

Treasury officials say they have no plans to provide alternative sources of funding for the education reforms, such as an across-the-board cut in government ministries.

The Education Ministry was supposed to present the cabinet with a detailed plan by the end of the month for free preschool education for ages 3-4 and for long school days, until 4 P.M., for all children aged 3-9. The two programs were supposed to start at the beginning of 2012, according to the Trajtenberg recommendations. These plans have yet to be presented to the cabinet, and will most likely not be presented in the few days remaining until the end of the year.

The Knesset passed the bill for free preschool education in 1984, but implementation has been postponed ever since, at the treasury's bidding, based on claims of a lack of budget.

Senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Netanyahu had yet to make a decision on the cuts in the defense budget and was studying the issue in consultation with officials from the Finance Ministry, Bank of Israel, Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces.

Cabinet accepts term limits for regulators

The cabinet decided yesterday to limit the terms of government regulators, as recommended by the Trajtenberg committee on socioeconomic change. The cabinet voted to appoint a committee headed by the new director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Harel Locker, to set terms for regulators.

The state has two types of regulators: those appointed by the cabinet and those appointed by ministers. Cabinet appointees have a set term and must meet certain minimum requirements, such as education. Those appointed by ministers, such as those responsible for setting the price of eggs or transportation, have no clear rules governing their appointments. Many do not have college degrees and some have unlimited terms. The committee is supposed to present its recommendations by June.

The cabinet also voted to establish another committee, headed by a retired judge, to set a mechanism for compensating former government officials who are required to wait out a cooling-off period up to year before taking a new job. This rule would help prevent conflicts of interest.