The Bottom Line / A Change for the Worse

The gist of Shinui declaring its support of the budget would bring an end to the Shas courtship, such that Shinui could prevent harming the allowance and work policy and contribute to economic growth.

1. Big money

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is scared to bet all or nothing. He could have brought the budget to a last-minute vote on March 31, and then every MK would know that if the budget fails to pass, the Knesset would fall and he or she could be out of a job. However, Sharon opted for March 16, so that, should it fail, he could always try again.

Sharon is courting Shas MK Eliyahu Yishai, who is conditioning Shas support on cancelling the child allowance reductions and increasing support for Yeshiva students. All his talk about protecting the weak and unfortunate is a mere cover for one primary goal: allowing the Shas elite to continue living at the state's expense without having to work. Restoring the allowances to their former size is essential to achieving this goal, so Yishai is not prepared to satisfy himself with improving the state of the elderly, increasing the health basket of services, or nutrition. These causes are smoke screens for his one true love - the allowances.

However, the implication of restoring the allowances is knocking down one of the pillars of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy: moving on from allowances to working. Everyone understands that if the allowances are restored, it will once again become advantageous to go on the dole and raise poor but larger families. What's more, the drop in unemployment would come to halt.

Standing on the other side is Shinui. Tommy Lapid and Avraham Poraz continue to say they won't support the budget. Lapid says it is absurd to ask an opposition party to support a budget. Yet, the budget at hand is a product of Shinui. Moreover, the gist of Shinui declaring its support of the budget would bring an end to the Shas courtship, such that Shinui could prevent harming the allowance and work policy and contribute to economic growth.

Indeed, disengagement and continuing the road map are the most important form of economic reform, causing more growth than all the reforms of Netanyahu.

2. Small change

Knesset members do not understand why the public feels disgusted by them. This week, in the midst of grave cutbacks in the basket of medicines, the Knesset proposed increasing its budget first by NIS 46 million and later by NIS 33 million, an enormous 11 percent supplement.

Each clause is infuriating: renovations, the splendid new wing, food and drink expenses, hotel accommodations. Yet, what is particularly maddening is the NIS 6.9 million addition for parliamentary aide salaries.

The Knesset committee decided to raise parliamentary aide salaries by some 50 percent in early February, an unprecedented raise. Gross salaries will range from NIS 8,000 to NIS 9,000 per month, and we're talking about young people, many of them entry level students. Is it logical that they should earn more than the average salary and more than a full-time teacher?

During the hearing Shas MK Nissim Dahan suggested that the new budget would allow MKs to hire three rather than two aides. His suggestion was adopted. The MK's committed a contemptable act. They increased the budget under the guise of raising salaries for the "deprived," but immediately divided the new allocation into three, thus reverting aides' salaries to their old levels. They surely know that even with the old salaries a surplus of applicants await the jobs, which serve as political springboards for better positions.

And so the additional funds will improve the standard of living of the MKs, who from now on will not only enjoy a personal driver and personal messenger, but a third assistant to answer their phones. MKs only employed one aide eight years ago. Today, it's two, and tomorrow it'll be three. Where's the limit? This NIS 6.9 million budget line, a symbol of pure corruption, should be withdrawn.