Opposition Stalks Out: Budget Passes First Vote Into Law

The budget bill for 2009 and 2010 squeaked past its first of three Knesset readings into law yesterday, even though the opposition boycotted the vote. The Economic Arrangements bill, which accompanies the budget bill each year, also passed even though there's still no majority for imposing value-added tax on fresh fruit and vegetables.

Never before has the opposition completely snubbed the preliminary discussions and the vote itself on the national budget. The umbrage wasn't over tax on tomatoes, it was over something unrelated to national finances: the government's intention of pushing through a law that would make it harder to bring down a government with no-confidence motions.

The so-called "governance act" would also make it easier for Knesset members to split off from their "home parties," and make it harder to pass private-member bills that have budgetary significance.

Ultimately the government garnered 61 yeas for the budget. Four MKs abstained - Amir Peretz, Ophir Pines-Paz, Yuli Tamir and Eitan Cabel. Given the absence of the opposition, there were no nays whatsoever.

Under the law, the Knesset committees have only until July 15 to finish working on the budget and Economic Arrangements bills and push them through. If they can't, the government has to disband. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz insists on imposing VAT on fresh produce, but may have to compromise on some other way of raising revenues.