Knesset Expected to Cancel Water Price Hike

The Knesset is expected to cancel a rise in water prices that is set to take effect on January 1, 2010, after several MKs came out in support of a tax revolt against the so-called drought tax imposed a few months ago. Knesset sources expect the MKs to legislate the price hike's cancelation, or at least its postponement.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his ministry's director general, Eyal Gabai, to reexamine the water price increases.

The change scheduled to take effect in January would create different prices for water in different localities. For example, towns in the mountains would pay more than those on the coastal plain due to the higher cost of pumping the water. Jerusalem water rates could rise by 50% as a result.

Gabai said yesterday that he would soon meet on the matter with officials from the finance and national infrastructure ministries, as well as the Water Authority. After Gabai informed her of this decision, MK Miri Regev (Likud) said she would withdraw her bill on curbing water prices, which was scheduled to be discussed on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. That bill would not only have canceled the rate hikes, but would also have given the Knesset the power to supervise water prices.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin yesterday criticized the call for a tax revolt against the drought tax, which was issued by several MKs, led by Ronit Tirosh (Kadima). Among those who joined her were Rachel Adatto (Kadima), Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) and Uri Ariel (National Union).

The drought tax was passed by the Knesset as part of the 2009-2010 budget. Both Tirosh and Tibi are members of the Knesset Finance Committee, which supported the move.

The rebel MKs have even prepared a booklet instructing the public on how to avoid paying the new tax on water usage. They also called on citizens to join a protest movement against the new tax.

The booklet's advice includes canceling standing bank orders that allow local authorities to collect the tax automatically. Another suggestion is to demand to have your water bill separated into different parts and then pay only the water charges, minus the tax. Additionally, the MKs recommended organizing protests. The MKs have also prepared a bill that would either cancel the new tax or have the money used exclusively for desalinating water.

Rivlin said yesterday that it was better for the MKs to act to change the law than act to violate it.

Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said the tax revolt reflects the people's mood, as the law is complicated and incredibly bureaucratic. However, he added, the proper way deal with it is to change the law. Gafni said the subcommittee on the tax will meet with officials from the Water Authority on Monday to discuss canceling the tax during winter months.