A Win for the Budget Process

No Uri Yogev. The biggest success of the 2011-2012 budget has been the process. Anyone who remembers the farce the last time around can't help but be impressed by how quietly the ministers passed the budget this time. Last time there were decisions by Histadrut labor federation leader Ofer Eini and Manufacturers Association head Shraga Brosh, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's economic adviser Uri Yogev led the process, a budget prepared by the Finance Ministry's budgets department was rejected by Yogev, and budgets department head Ram Belinkov made accusations of corruption and quit in anger.

This time, there was no Yogev, no Eini and no Brosh. The Prime Minister's Office and the Finance Ministry worked in complete coordination, largely thanks to the officials who drafted the budget, but also thanks to the finance minister himself, Yuval Steinitz, who made sure that nearly every part of the budget would receive advance approval. All Netanyahu had to do was show up and decide on the one remaining conflict - the security budget.

No ministry complaints. Another major thing was that the ministry representatives showed up ready. There were no last-minute surprises awaiting them in the budgets department's draft. This time, the budgets department included them in the process and got their approval in advance.

Three things made this possible: the personalities of Steinitz and budgets department head Udi Nissan, who favor cooperation; the fact that the budget is for two years, which gave everyone much more time for preparation; and the fact that this is an easy budget - it's big and nearly every ministry is getting its budget expanded. When you're able to give, it's a lot easier to be generous.

No goats in the house. There was another refreshing change - as the fable goes, no one tried to squeeze any goats into the house, so that it'd feel spacious once they were let out. In other words, no one tried to make any ridiculous proposals they knew would be unlikely to gain approval, so that they could be dismissed as part of a future compromise on another matter. The problem with this is that the Finance Ministry didn't try to fight for necessary measures it knew would be unpopular, such as value-added tax on fruits and vegetables.

What won't pass? Some aspects of the budget that received ministerial approval may not pass the Knesset. One is the appropriate, important decision to freeze the increases for child allowances set in the coalition agreement with Shas. These allowances shouldn't be there in the first place, and they help enable the Haredim and the Arabs to remain outside the workforce. However, these allowances are a flagship issue for Shas.

Who won? Everyone, thanks to the structured process and the budget additions. The biggest winner is Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who will receive another NIS 2.5 billion to NIS 3 billion. Netanyahu's election promise to boost the education system is starting to happen.

Who lost? Defense Minister Ehud Barak, of course. The Defense Ministry wanted a big budgetary addition, and it wound up with a cut. Plus, Netanyahu didn't blink and finally approved the plan to raise the retirement age for non-combat career soldiers.

This is all a lot of money, and the decision can only be praised. But it's also a good compromise for the defense establishment - it leaves it with the flexibility to decide how the decisions will be put in place.