After a day of stormy debate, the Knesset Finance Committee on Sunday approved moving some 18.5 billion shekels ($4.75 billion) of funds originally allocated to the 2014 budget for spending in the remaining days of 2015.
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The vote came after a deal was made between the ultra-Orthodox parties and Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi to restore some 1 billion shekels in allocations to ultra-Orthodox educational institutions taken away from during the last government. In return, West Bank settlements, a favorite of Bennett’s party, will get 317 million.
Although the treasury said the money was surplus funds committed by various government ministries under long-term contracts, opposition lawmakers asserted that much of it was new spending that should have been included in the 2015 budget approved by the Knesset in November. They accused the government to get controversial allocations approved in an accelerated process.
The finance committee was only given the original request to transfer the money last week and very little time to examine what the request contained even though it amounts to close to 6% of the annual budget.
But Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) faulted the opposition’s stand and noted that the Yesh Atid MKs were complaining about allocations their party leader Yair Lapid approved when he was finance minister in the previous government.
The allocations were approved under a new procedures Gafni instituted last week that he said was aimed at ensuring more transparency in the process, including a requirement that all budget changes be accompanied by a clear, intelligible explanation for the change and that each change be itemized separately, ending the practice of sandwiching multiple, unrelated items into a single vote.