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Budget deficitAt the beginning of next week, the Finance Ministry's Income Tax Division will publish the figures on tax collection in January. Despite the fact that it was considered a good collection month, the figures will indicate a steep drop in tax revenues. The revised state budget stipulates that income tax collection will total NIS 88.6 billion this year, but the data will show that tax collection in 2002 will not exceed NIS 80 billion.

In addition, Eitan Robb, the director of the treasury's Customs and VAT Division, said recently that the collection of customs duties this year will fall NIS 2-3 billion short of the budgeted figure. Add to this amount lower real estate taxes of NIS 300-700 million due to the recently passed law as well as NIS 300-400 million that the disabled will receive, and we discover that this year's budget deficit will not be 3 percent (about NIS 15 billion) of gross domestic product as projected in the budget, but 5-6 percent (NIS 25-30 billion). That is, the members of Knesset will vote next week on an untruthful budget.

ConsultationIn another few days, several dozen businessmen and economics professors will again come to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office "to discuss the situation." Sharon will speak about his great work and they will offer recommendations about what he should do. And this all will take place in an atmosphere of great importance, with the feeling of being personally invited to the king's court.

Sharon will even pull out a note pad from his pocket and jot down all of their remarks. But the moment the meeting ends and they leave his office, Sharon will let out a huge sigh of relief and toss the notepad in the nearest trash can. After all, he also knows how dangerous the budget is and how weak he is, capitulating to every pressure. He is also well aware that this entire meeting is essentially a lie. They come to offer consultation to the seat of power and perhaps to grab a headline for the next day's newspaper. And Sharon, as part of a public relations campaign, is prepared to suffer through this meeting and listen - but not to do anything. The seat is more important.

The affluentIn order to "screw the rich," the treasury plans to impose a 30-shekel tax on those who receive a cellular telephone from their employer. This is a measure taken straight from Chelm, because there is nothing that improves efficiency like distributing cell phones to every employee. You can clearly see this with your own eyes - how productivity and efficiency increase with the widespread use of cellular telephones. At every stage and every hour, the manager can reach his employees and they can communicate with him. The inventor of the cellular telephone deserves to receive the world efficiency prize.

So what brilliant new idea do our wise men of Chelm propose? To target this efficient instrument, raise its price and make it economically unfeasible for a certain percentage of employers and employees who will be forced to give up their cell phones, and thus revert to the days when it was always impossible to reach them. Under the populist slogan "screw the rich," Finance Minister Silvan Shalom hurts efficiency, production and initiative. Help!