Avshalom Vilan had to be summoned from the cafeteria for the vote. He arrived, joined the only other two committee members who had shown up - Tzachi Hanegbi and Efi Eitam - and raised his hand to vote aye for the 2007 defense budget.
Well, who needs more than three Knesset members to pass the national budget. It's a lousy NIS 50 billion. A piddling matter to our elected representatives. Pocket change.
Eitam, a general in the reserves, told the committee that the NIS 50 billion defense budget was too small. His position brings little surprise: he's probably among those who think the taxpayer is to blame for the fiasco in the Lebanon war, for never paying enough in taxes toward the war effort over the years.
Academician and Knesset member Avishay Braverman, who ardently supported defense budget cuts before the elections, didn't show up for the vote. Neither did Eli Aflalo, Amira Dotan, Matan Vilnai, Amnon Cohen, Stas Misezhnikov, or Yuval Steinitz.
Well, to be fair, it was a deadly boring discussion on a hopelessly unsexy topic. The defense budget. Who has the strength for such nonsense. The gang agreed on the q.t. that if and when there is discussion on whether or not to hold talks with Assad, they'd all show up and give the TV channels a good angle and sound-bites.
If you, the taxpayer, are horrified that only three Knesset members troubled to show up for the debate on the biggest and most important section of the national budget - down boy, relax. The Knesset usually eschews lengthy debate on weighty economic matters.
Take the piffling issue of non-contributory pensions, which are pensions that taxpayers pay in full, and to which the recipients, government workers, pay nothing.
No, don't stop here, keep reading. I know that "non-contributory pensions" are instant soporifics. But believe me, it really, really matters to you. The debt is between NIS 300 billion to NIS 400 billion, depending on who's counting and how, and you the taxpayer have to foot the bill, in full.
Yesterday we explained in our column, "Seven simple financial suggestions," that because of the way the world has changed, nobody is assuring you of a respectable pension, unless you're a government servant with a non-contributory pension. Everybody else has been tossed out into the cruel world of the open market, and you'd better digest that news fast.
That is the bad news. The worse news is that the pension you'll need is much bigger than you think, because life expectancies are soaring and the costs of healthcare are too.
And there is even worse news. There's a good change that in ten years, or 30, you'll have to finance three pensions in order to get one:
1. Your present one: the 18 percent of your salary that you and your employer put aside to assure your future when you can't work any more.
2. Your tax payments, to pay for the public sector non-contributory pensions for state workers who set aside not a sou of their salaries. Nor does the state. You do, through your tax.
3. The tax you will pay in the future to finance the elephantine deficits under the Histadrut pension funds arrangement. Remember that arrangement? From time to time Benjamin Netanyahu boasts that he'd "saved" these pension funds. Um, you're going to, though.
Yes, the reform of the pension funds was a screaming necessity, and Netanyahu deserves full credit for it. But in practice, their yawning actuarial deficit is being zeroed by the simple move of cutting pensioners' benefits by 15 to 25 percent, and having the taxpayers fill in the remaining hole over 30 years.
Now let's look at figures.
The cost of the non-contributory pensions and the pension funds arrangement will be NIS 12 billion in 2007.
But that's nothing. Within 15 years that cost will double, and possibly triple, because the pensions are not linked to the CPI or to the average wage: they are linked to actual salaries by active workers, and when economic times are booming, they skyrocket in kind. Each year as the treasury officials prepare a budget for the next year, the first bill they present the taxpayers is the interest on the national debt. That's NIS 40 billion this year.
The news is that in 15 or 20 years, you're going to get billed about the same amount for pensions of state workers who never paid one cent into a pension fund.
What are the exact figures? How many pensions are we going to have to pay for, out of our own pocket, in 10 or 20 years, in order to get one single pension for ourselves?
We don't know. As far as we know the Finance Ministry has never tried to do the math, of what burden it's passing onto our children based on budget decisions made yesterday and today.
The Knesset, believe it or not, maintains a whole division that is supposed to do analyses like that. It's called The Commissioner of the Next Generations.
We looked on the Knesset Web site to see what the Commish has to say about it, and saw the following on page 76 (on the Hebrew site): "The Commissioner of the Next Generations has a goal of studying and developing the issue of national intergenerational accounts during the Knesset's next term, in order to evaluate the actual economic damage that may be caused to future generations because of irregular government spending in the present."
To the best of our recollection, The Commissioner of the Next Generations was established five years ago, but it hasn't had a chance to address that trifling matter of, what was it, NIS 300 billion or NIS 400 billion that non-contributory pensions are going to slip onto the shoulders of our children. But you see with your own eyes: its intentions are good. They think they should address the matter, at least some time in the future.
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