Finance Committee Vows to Block Budget Cuts Until Heftsiba Victims Compensated

Knesset Finance Committee chairman Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beitenu) announced that the committee will delay the treasury's expected request to trim NIS 1 billion from the 2008 budget, so long as the state fails to allocate NIS 25 million to bail out Heftsiba apartment buyers. Thousands of apartment buyers were left without property or investments after the construction company collapsed last year.

The move followed the treasury's announcement that the state would not back an assistance fund for Heftsiba home buyers. Misezhnikov said the committee is ashamed it has not obtained the treasury's assistance for the victims of Heftsiba's collapse.

"It is not the job of the treasury to reimburse citizens if a company collapses," a treasury spokeswoman told the committee. "This is an unprecedented move that could have long-term consequences, because the next time a company fails, people will demand similar compensation," she added.

MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and Yakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) demanded that the committee meeting be cut short, and called for "the bureaucrats" to be sent home until Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On arrived. Rivlin said the housing and finance ministers had agreed to consider allocating a budget for victims of the Heftsiba bankruptcy.

"The finance minister knowingly lied to the committee when he allowed it to believe that the treasury would transfer the necessary sums to the assistance fund. The finance minister's duty is to balance budgetary considerations with our moral obligations as a society," Rivlin said, and demanded that the finance minister explain "why he has renegged on his promise."

"The treasury has thrown Heftsiba victims to the dogs," Misezhnikov added.

The revolt of the finance committee against the treasury began during a meeting yesterday, when it approved the first reading of a bill proposing a 10% income tax cut for Eilat residents - in opposition to the treasury's position. The committee also rejected several treasury requests for budget adjustments.