Bar-On to Gov't: Where Shall We Cut Budget, Defense or Welfare?

Budgets for children at risk, services for the disabled, for means to increase safety at work, would shrink by at least 50%.

The budget proposal that Finance Minister Roni Bar-On presented to the government yesterday is likely to arouse bitter opposition among the public and in Knesset, too. The NIS 319 billion budget is missing NIS 7 billion to meet all the government's promises, which means budget cuts. Bar-On demands that the government share the burden of deciding where to cut more: from defense or from budgets to support the poor and needy.

Bar-On and top Finance Ministry officials presented the principles of the budget proposal for 2009 at a press conference in Jerusalem yesterday. He himself, said Bar-On, recommends slashing spending on defense rather than on welfare and society.

Here are some figures. The budget for 2009 totals NIS 319 billion, compared with NIS 301.5 billion in 2008. The treasury is projecting that Israeli GDP will grow by 3.5% in 2009, a slower pace than the 4.2% expected this year. It anticipates that state revenues, mainly from taxes, will reach NIS 228 billion, and is banking on the deficit not passing 1% of Israel's gross domestic product, compared with a maximum of 1.6% this year.

After the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and given the Iranian threat, a committee headed by David Brodet recommended that the Defense Ministry budget increase steadily over 10 years, rather than fluctuate violently as had been the case in the last 10 years. Under the Brodet recommendations, the ministry should have received NIS 3.1 billion more in 2009, but Bar-On recommends it receive only NIS 1 billion and that the rest be handed over only in 2010. The Transportation Ministry would lose NIS 100 million from its budget for development, and the Israel Police orchestra will be history. The police would also have to reduce employment of civilians through manpower companies by 50%, under the treasury's budget proposal.

If, on the other hand, the ministers choose to cut welfare instead, stipends paid through the National Insurance Institute would fall drastically. Two additions of NIS 250 million to pension payments that were supposed to be given to the eligible on January 1, 2009 and on January 1, 2010 would be given a year late - to name but one decree.

Defense would share the pain, getting only NIS 2.2 billion out of that promised extra NIS 3.1 billion, and would get the remainder in 2010.

The child allowance would shrink by 10% from January 1, 2009, from NIS 152 per child to NIS 135, saving the National Insurance Institute about half a billion shekels a year. Also, mothers would only receive birth grants for the first child, and paid maternity leave would shorten from 14 to 12 weeks.

Budgets for children at risk, services for the disabled, for means to increase safety at work, would shrink by at least 50%. Also, development budgets for the local authorities would have to drop, and the price of public transportation will increase, explain the treasury chiefs.

Irrespective of which option the ministers choose - defense or society - the treasury means to cut NIS 352 million from education, NIS 341 million from transportation safety groups, NIS 300 million from support for health-care funds, NIS 200 million from support for yeshivas, and NIS 120 million from the Prime Minister's Office's budget.

Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, who is also the Industry and Trade minister, said his party would oppose the budget unless the Finance Ministry explicitly stated the children were a target for poverty elimination programs, not for targeted destruction. "A million children living in poverty have become invisible in the eyes of the impervious treasury people," Yishai said.