Gafni Vows to Suspend Drought Tax Over Winter

Not all Israel's elected representative stand united behind the "drought tax," which is actually a higher price per cubic meter of water beyond a certain quota.

Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) announced that the committee would act to legislate a suspension of the drought tax over the winter months if the government fails to take action itself.

"The public is unable to withstand the decree," he said.

In addition to suspending the tax over the winter, the Finance Committee also called on the government to take steps to cancel the requirement for disabled persons to provide a medical recommendation when applying for tax relief, and to waive the tax for widows and widowers, similar to the waiver given to a five-person household.

MK Amnon Cohen (Shas) who chairs a committee dedicated to ongoing consideration of the drought tax, said that there is no need to punish citizens during the winter months.

"Citizens saved water during the summer months, and consumption fell because they took the matter seriously," he said.

The Finance Committee debate was a stormy one. MK Miri Regev (Likud) accused MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) of supporting a reform of water rates during the last government term which would have resulted in a 50% increase in water rates.

Tirosh did not take the accusation lightly. "You are a liar. I have never supported the water reform at any stage," she said.

A group of masked protesters burst into the debate forum, chanting against the tax, likening it to swine flu. The group had to be escorted out of the forum by ushers.

Deputy Director of Budgets Shaul Meridor told participants: "Even though everyone is saying today that there is no water crisis, in spite of the winter season and the rains, we are still 90% off the national average."

"The law," he pointed out, "addresses a five year drought."

If this winter's rains allow for cancellation of the tax, the Water Authority will be the first to do so, Water Authority Deputy Director General Tami Shor promised.

"Right now, we stand about 400 million cubic meters under the minimum. We have had five straight years of less rainfall than we require. If anyone thinks that they can say for certain that this winter will see above average rainfall they should say so, because the Water Authority cannot promise any such thing," Shor said.

She added that the need to reduce consumption had not subsided, even if it is raining.

"It's hard to convince the public that the rain that is falling is not a cure for the water economy," she added.