Would the Messiah Give You a Tax Break?

We haven't seen a show of concord and amity like that in ages. All the Knesset members, religious and secular, left and right, hawks and doves, bleeding hearts and capitalists were speaking in unison.

What were they saying in such harmony? That under no circumstances should the middle class be hurt. Meaning, do not raise a person's income tax because he uses a company car allocated by his employer.

Looking at the shared feeling in Knesset, one might think the Messiah had arrived, but if he had, he probably wouldn't agree with our elected officials about raising the tax on using a company car. Assuming the Messiah actually checks the facts instead of braying meaningless slogans, he'd have noticed some painful truths about the Israeli economy.

For instance, he'd have noticed that among the most prominent representatives of the downtrodden middle class in Israel are school-teachers. They don't get company cars. The people in whose hands we entrust the education of our children, the people about whom we say "cheap education costs dearly", drive to work - school - in their own cars, even though teachers barely make NIS 6,000 a month.

Not only teachers: doctors too. They should, together with teachers, be considered one of the sectors that we most need to nurture in Israel, but they don't get company cars. Nurses, definitely representatives of the lower-middle class, have to drive private cars; lecturers at university do too. So do most of the people working in the public sector.

These people constitute the core of the middle class and they all finance their travel out of their own pockets. They don't force the taxpayer to finance their cars through a tax break.

The probe runs deeper

If the Messiah were to continue investigating, which is a thing that the Knesset members evidently didn't do, he would have found that only 5% of the drivers in the fifth decile receive a company car.

In other words, only 5% to 15% of Israel's middle class drives company cars.

Where does the proportion of people driving company cars suddenly shoot up? Yes, in the uppermost deciles, among the people paid the most. In the ninth decile the rate is 25% and in the tenth (meaning, the top 10% of earners), the rate is 40%.

So anybody in the uppermost deciles who doesn't drive a company car should feel pretty foolish. But the truth is that the real fools are the taxpayers, that silent majority that doesn't drive a company car but that pays tax from his teacher or nurse's salary to finance company cars for the rich.

The Messiah might wonder why the Knesset members shook him out of his slumber of millennia, but actually, if you follow our parliamentarians, it's little surprise. They talk the talk of protecting the middle class, but in their world, that means the members of the most powerful unions (who receive automatic backing in parliament) and naturally the highest earners, who are the main beneficiaries of company car policy.

Nasty bill, that

The clangorous lobby set up by the powerful workers, and the unwillingness of our elected representatives  to be appearing to support unpopular legislation, have helped our Knesset members formulate their stance: yes to perks that help a tiny part of the middle class, and no to egalitarian perks that would have benefited the entire middle class.

The position of the Knesset members is so clear-cut that the Likud even took the step of replacing its representative in talks about tax on company cars, because Reuven Rivlin had the gall to express lukewarm support for the idea of raising the gross pay of company car recipients (for tax purposes). Rivlin was replaced by Haim Katz, formerly the union chief at the Israel Aircraft Industries, and we can tell which interests he represents. The Likud is voting with its feet, so to speak, though it never provided an official opinion.

The Likud is helping the powerful unions in practice, without declaring it to be so. It is persisting with the line it's adopted lately: stubbornly silent opposition, saying nothing about just about every controversial issue. Polls show that the tactic is working: and it doesn't matter that the party chairman, Benjamin Netanyahu, was the fierce guardian of the public pocket when serving as finance minister, or that as such, he set out to straighten out the warps and bends in Israel's tax system. Right now he has his eyes set on the premiership and evidently prefers silence to principles.