The Cost of a New Election in Israel: Lawmakers Get Paid Though There’s No Work to Do

Idle lawmakers will cost government hundreds of millions of shekels this year, despite the fact that most of them have until now only voted to dissolve the Knesset

Lawmakers at the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 30, 2019.
Emil Salman

To get an idea of how much two general elections in under six months will cost Israeli taxpayers, Knesset Member Osnat Mark (Likud) is a good place to start.

By the time the next election rolls around on September 17, she will have served in the Knesset for 10 months without performing any of the duties of a lawmaker. Nevertheless, she will receive a monthly salary of 43,000 shekels ($11,850), as well as a budget for aides and advisers.

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Mark entered the Knesset in November. She replaced Jackie Levy, who resigned from the legislature after winning the mayoral election in Beit She’an.

By the time Mark was given her introductory tour of the Knesset, her new colleagues were already campaigning for the April 9 election; the corridors of the Knesset were largely empty.

Mark won reelection, and together with her fellow MKs will continue to collect her salary at least until the September 17 election, despite the fact that most of their Knesset duties have been suspended.

Mark isn’t alone: All the MKs who were sworn into office in April continue to get paid even though their main job until now has been to vote to dissolve the Knesset, as they did Wednesday night. There will be virtually no committee meetings or votes in the next three and a half months.

The cost adds up to hundreds of millions of shekels. Meanwhile, a treasury official estimated this week that the cost of staging the next election will be more than 250 million shekels for the polling itself and another 200 million on subsidies for party campaigns. The usual estimate for the day off voters get on Election Day is about 1 billion shekels.

On the other hand, taxpayers will enjoy some savings because the coalition agreements signed during the last government expired on the last Election Day. Treasury officials estimate that they savings will amount to about 700 million shekels through the end of September.

Meanwhile, planning for the 2020 state budget is frozen. Finance Ministry officials had begun working on proposals several weeks ago and were even lobbying politicians amid the coalition talks in expectation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have formed a government by now.

The plan was to have a draft budget ready for the cabinet in August and for the 21st Knesset to approve by December.

Now there will be a caretaker government through September 17 and into the weeks following during another round of coalition talks.

That means that measures to help close a widening budget deficit this year through spending cutbacks and/or revenue measures won’t be taken.

It also means the government will start 2020 without a budget for the year. Instead, spending will continue along the lines of this year’s budget on a month-to-month basis.