Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to meet resistance when he tries to pass a 2% across-the-board cut to the state budget.
The cut is designed to enable the government to decrease the excise tax on gasoline, and to reduce the price of water and public transportation - a few of the measures Netanyahu announced Thursday in the wake of growing public pressure over rising prices.
The pressure came not just from citizens at large, but also from members of Netanyahu's coalition. With the taste of success in their mouths, they are expected to launch a new battle, this time to maintain their own budgets. Several ministers and coalition MKs already have said they intend to fight to have various parts of their budgets exempted from the cut. The government is expected to discuss the matter in a week.
Knesset sources say the education and defense allocations are likely to be exempted, contrary to earlier predictions; these fields received considerable attention in the latest budget process. The health and welfare budgets may be exempted as well.
Once any exemptions are approved, the cabinet and the Knesset Finance Committee are expected to okay the budget cut, under pressure from Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.
Netanyahu is expected to tell MKs who object to the cuts that it is necessary to finance other measures they had demanded - namely, reducing taxes on water and gas - without overspending the budget.
However, an alternative means of financing Netanyahu's reforms may be raised. Coalition party Israel Beiteinu has said it objects to the government-wide cut, and its five ministers are expected to vote against it in the cabinet.
While Netanyahu is serving as the acting health minister, the ministry is being managed by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. While Litzman cannot vote in the cabinet, Netanyahu needs to work with him.
Litzman said yesterday that he objected to cutting the health budget again, noting that it had been reduced only six months ago. He also criticized the Knesset Finance Committee's decision last week to increase the defense budget by NIS 700 million, given that the details of Netanyahu's Thursday reform were already being worked out at the time.
Interior Minister and Shas chairman Eli Yishai said his party would demand that the welfare budget be exempted from any cuts. Shas believes the government can fund the reduction in water and gas taxes by means of surplus budgets, he said.
Moshe Kahlon, who holds the welfare and communications portfolios, announced he would be meeting with Netanyahu to discuss increasing the National Insurance sustenance payments.
For his part, Transportation Minister Israel Katz said he hadn't yet formulated a position on the move, since the ministers had not yet received an official plan. Katz had sharply criticized the gasoline excise tax increase that went into effect January 1, which Netanyahu repealed last week.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has not made any public statements on the matter yet, but Knesset sources believe his budget will be exempted from cuts.
Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni had been invited to participate in Netanyahu and Steinitz's press conference on Thursday and praised the steps announced there, but said he still objected to a flat, government-wide cut.
This would not be a logical move, he told TheMarker. "Such a cut to all the ministries will include welfare, education, housing, health - on behalf of other good things? What's the logic? While the steps they announced are good and appropriate, and I welcome them, an alternative to a flat budget cut is needed."
Gafni suggested freezing the reduction in corporate tax rates as an alternative, and refused to say what he would do if his demands were not heeded.
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