Tea for Me, Bill for You

Our elected representatives seem to be supremely unworried by the delays in advancing economic reforms, including negative income tax, mandatory pensions and tax on company cars. Or maybe they're merely philosophical.

That doesn't mean their minds are free of concern on this sunny Monday: as the children of Israel skip to school wearing white and garlanded with flowers in honor of Shavuot, our parliamentarians will be voting on a bill to have the taxpayer foot the bill for their coffee, tea and refreshments in the House. Cocoa, too, and photocopies, while about it.

A bill jointly proposed by 15 Knesset members and backed by all the factions gives the elected representatives a budget of NIS 380,00 a year, to be parceled between the parties according to the size of their factions in the House. The budget is earmarked for refreshments and office supplies - that's where the photocopies come in. It will also finance trips by the parliamentarians outside the confines of the Knesset.

Granted, the sum is peanuts compared with the Knesset's annual budget, which comes to NIS 426 million a year. But it joins a long list of extra budgets with which the House has padded the parties, which add up to NIS 100 million a year.

Also, several years ago the Knesset factions complained that the parties were so deep in debt that they couldn't pay their workers in time.  So the Knesset allotted them a special budget of NIS 6 million a year to cover the salaries of faction chiefs and their aides.

Yet even these sums have not sated the factions. Most of the parties, other than Kadima and the Pensioners Party (which are both newcomers to the House), are mired in debt. So the factions came up with an original idea: to order whatever refreshments and photocopies and so on they liked and simply send the bill to the Knesset. But Knesset general counsel Nurit Elstein intervened and pointed out that what they were doing was illegal. (TheMarker reported on this in December 2006).

Elstein explained that the Knesset members couldn't simply divert budgets from the Knesset as they pleased. But leave it to our parliamentarians to come up with a cunning plan to do just that: enact it in law.