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Mayors of wealthier cities voiced outrage yesterday at the Knesset Finance Committee decision Tuesday to force them to fund religious councils in poorer towns from their budgets. The move is part of a Shas-sponsored bill from the previous Knesset, known as the differential budgeting law. The decision also obliges municipalities to increase their share in the budgets of their local religious councils.

"The Shas people are using the law to reach for the money of residents of large cities and give it to their men," said Holon mayor Moti Sasson. "Why should we be sponsoring the weaker towns? I'm all for religious services and I'll support them, but I can't subscribe to the lowly, brutal method used by Shas."

Sasson went on to stress the absurdity of the decision being made after most local authorities already voted on their 2010 budgets.

"I've already confirmed the municipal budget, and I'm not going to dig out another million shekels. The Holon religious council can pay for it if they like," he said.

Sasson was joined by officials in Tel Aviv city hall, who told Haaretz that the state was continuing to disengage from its responsibilities toward its citizens and its commitment to support state services.

"It's not right to have the residents of the large cities paying their municipal taxes for religious services elsewhere," one official said.

The Forum of the 15 Largest Cities is considering appealing to the Supreme Court and intensifying the public campaign against the decision. The forum's director general, Eitan Atia, said the decision was "crooked."

"We would have to cut back on welfare, education, sanitation and culture to give money to the religious council," he said.