Budget Fight Turns to Timing of Cabinet Debate

Attorney general wants ministers to have at least seven days to review budget.

Ofer Vaknin

A new debate has flared up over the 2015 budget, but this time it’s not over how much to increase defense spending but over when the cabinet will meet for the first time to debate the budget in the first place.

The issue is whether minsters will hold deliberations on the 2015 budget on Monday, as Finance Minister Yair Lapid and treasury officials are urging, or whether it will have to wait until at least the day after that, as Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein insists.

The debate over timing has to do with whether cabinet ministers will get enough time to study the budget proposal before voting on it. Responding to complaints in the past that cabinet members weren’t given adequate time to study the budget proposals of past years, the attorney general has issued a directive saying they must get copies at least seven days in advance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in the United States to attend the UN General Assembly meeting and visit the White House, will make a decision shortly after consulting with Avi Licht, the deputy attorney general.

The dispute is the latest in a budget-making process that has been fraught with tension, delaying the cabinet debate from early summer, when it is customarily scheduled, to the start of October. Lapid and Netanyahu have fought over the size of the defense budget and the budget deficit.

As a result, the cabinet and the Knesset face a very constrained timetable to complete the approval process before the end of the year.

But as of Monday, the booklets containing the budget proposal and the accompanying legislation known as the Economic Arrangements Law had yet to be distributed. Cabinet minsters say they know nothing at all about the spending package apart from what they have read and seen in the media.

There are still a lot of details that officials in the Finance Ministry’s budget division have not yet sorted out, even though Lapid held a news conference on Sunday unveiling the 328 billion shekel ($89 billion) budget. Treasury officials are still seeking to close a gap of several billion shekels.

Moreover, it is not clear the cabinet will receive the proposal before Netanyahu and Lapid resolve their dispute with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon over the size of the increase in military spending.

The draft budget calls for a 6 billion shekel increase, which is 5 billion less than what the army wants. Sources said no talks have been held in the last several days.

The problem with giving ministers a full seven days to review the budget is the risk that the cabinet might not be able to meet next Tuesday. If it doesn’t, the High Holy Days schedule means that the next time minsters can take up the issue is October 19.

A delay until then would, in turn, imperil the November 1 deadline by which the cabinet must give the budget proposal to the Knesset for a vote. The finance and justice ministries ordinarily need at least a month to prepare the final version of the budget before lawmakers see it.

Because of the timing pressures, Lapid announced yesterday he would not attend the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Washington next month. Instead, Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug will lead the Israeli delegation.