The Basic Law on the State Economy is very clear. The law states that the Israel government must present the budget bill to the Knesset no later than 60 days before the start of the year. So November 3 is the deadline.
November 3 passed this week, yet no budget bill landed in Knesset.
The Israeli government broke the law this week. It never broke this particular law before. Even during election years, and when it was clear that the government couldn't get a Knesset majority for the budget, the government adhered to the law, presenting its proposal on time.
The precedent set this time has been met with a thunderous silence.
The public is apparently unaware of the offense, because no one told them about it. Certainly the man whose job it is to ensure the government obeys – Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein hasn't said boo.
His silence. Weinstein has not warned the government – at least not publicly – and also did not act to prevent it from breaking the law.
Is the attorney general indifferent to violations committed by government?
Probably not: behind the scenes Weinstein did advise the prime minster as to the implications of not submitting the budget on time. There is no penalty under the law for tarrying with the budget. But there is a penalty if the Knesset doesn't pass by three months after the start of the year: the Knesset is automatically disbanded.
So, the government must to present the budget on time (with no punishment if it doesn't). The Knesset meanwhile doesn't have to approve the budget by any particular time, but if it doesn't by March 31, it must disband. Odd, that.
In practice, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to end his incumbent government and head for early elections. He may have figured that the Knesset would reject his budget anyway, so it would disband in any case.
According to estimates from legal experts, this also explains Weinstein's silence: he knows Bibi knows the price of the omission to submit a budget on time.
Thus the Justice Ministry let this horrible precedent – the government breaking a Basic Law – pass unremarked.
So what if the government quits?
Ostensibly, no damage is caused by this precedent. So the government chose, in effect, to quit. But in practice, it does cause damage beyond the unspoken conspiracy that allowed the government to break the law.
For one thing, there has been no true discussion of a budget for 2013; that's something the next government will have to deal with. But the next leaders will have precious little time to study the material. The Finance Ministry doesn't believe a budget can be approved before June 2013 –meaning Israel will be forced to muddle along for half a year with no budget in place.
When that happens, and it has before, each month the government may spend 1/12 of the
previous year's approved budget, without adding a sou: no new programs, for instance. And the 2012 budget had been an especially constraining one.
Another problem is that nothing has been achieved but to put off the inevitable end. Netanyahu had good reason to break the law by not submitting a budget proposal. If a budget proposal had been made, the public would have realized the nature of his budget cuts, which would hurt him at the polls. Now the election will happen early anyway but the budget cuts remain opaque.
The budget proposal for 2013 may not officially exist, but in practice the treasury has already written it, and everyone knows what it includes: A huge cut of 12-15 billion shekels, probably from three main areas – child allowances, public-sector wages, and the defense budget.
The first cut will bring Netanyahu into conflict with his ultra-Orthodox partners; the second will force him to clash with the Histadrut labor federation and the public; and the third will bring him into confrontation with himself – and with his plans to attack Iran.
Over his current term, Netanyahu – for those who haven't noticed – has become a prime minister who avoids confrontations.
In complete contrast to his combative nature as finance minister in 2003, in his current role he is mainly ensuring he ingratiates himself with everyone. In this way we have reached the huge estimated deficit of 4 percent in the 2012 budget; in this way we have reached the point where the Knesset will be disbanded because of the budget; in this way we have reached the point where the prime minister prefers to break the law, just so he will not need to reveal to the public the truth regarding the anticipated budget for 2013.
But the truth will come out after election day.
"In accordance with the law, the government was to present the budget proposal to the Knesset 60 days before the end of the year. The attorney general made this clear to the prime minister," the Justice Ministry stated. "Before the date prescribed by law, the Knesset decided to dissolve, due to, amongst other things, the difficulty of the government in agreeing a budget. In this situation, the budget proposal will not be submitted before the beginning of 2013."
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