Bottom Shekel / The Pay Cut That Never Was

On June 7, 2009 cabinet members voted to cut their own salaries by 5%. The decision was made with great fanfare and publicity. They gritted their teeth and with little choice, voted in favor. "Am I crazy? How can I come out against the cut in ministers' salaries and be attacked in the media?" said one cabinet member who asked to remain unnamed.

The cabinet's decision to cut its own wages caused conscientious Knesset members, such as Uri Ariel (National Union), to propose the same for legislators.

The salary cut for the prime minister, ministers and MKs is only a drop in the bucket. It was scheduled to last through the end of 2010, and did not apply to various benefits and salary components, such as cost of living increases. Nevertheless, the savings on ministers' wages would add up to about a million shekels, and another NIS 2.5 million for MKS. Ministers now make NIS 36,920 a month.

The media rushed to flatter the ministers and MKs, who were willing to "sacrifice" their own salaries to support the seriously depleted state coffers, as tax revenues were forecast to plunge by NIS 60 billion in 2009-2010.

But political realities once again proved that words and actions are often two different things. After the politicians garnered praise for supporting cuts in their very own salaries, all their talk wasn't worth the paper it was written on. Not a thing has happened yet - if ever.

The cabinet has not even bothered to consult the Knesset Finance Committee, the body responsible for legislating the salary levels of the prime minister, president, ministers, deputy ministers, judges and ministry director generals.

The Knesset House Committee, which is the forum for discussing MKs' salaries and benefits, has not even bothered to mention Ariel's proposal to cut their own wages. In fact, to lower - or alter in any way - the salary terms for MKs, the House Committee must first ask and receive an opinion on the matter from the public committee on MK employment conditions chaired by Prof. Reuven Gronau. As of now, this first step has not even been made.

Much ado about nothing

Additionally, no one in the Knesset is discussing reducing the salaries of judges or ministry director generals - all of whose salaries are quite similar to those of the MKs - who now gross NIS 33,259 a month. If they cut their own salaries by 5%, and this applies to the full amount (unlike ministers), then MKs would make less than ministry director generals, who now make in the NIS 32,000-34,150 a month range - unless their salaries are cut, too.

When the Finance Ministry wants to enact a law urgently, it knows how to speed up MKs. But as to the decision on cutting ministers' wages? No one seems to be in a hurry. So what if 40 days have already passed?

It seems the cabinet simply didn't want to offend anyone, MKs or ministers, by reaching a decision that would affect them personally, and at the height of the battle over the 2009-2010 budget and the Economic Arrangements Law.

The Finance Ministry stated: "The decision to cut ministers' salaries will be presented to the Knesset after the Knesset finishes its discussions on the budget."

Is something moving?

The Knesset Finance Committee will meet tomorrow to discuss the 5% salary cut for the prime minister and ministers. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz requested the meeting. It is still unclear whether the committee will discuss cutting the salaries of the president, judges and other senior officials.

The Knesset Presidium will also discuss MK Uri Ariel's proposed 5% salary cut for MKs tomorrow. Ariel will try to persuade the Presidium, which consists of the Knesset speaker and his deputies, to accept the proposal after the body rejected it two weeks ago.