The Bottom Line / Close to My Heart

"There's no budget," Benjamin Netanyahu announced dramatically Wednesday night.

"There's no budget," Benjamin Netanyahu announced dramatically Wednesday night. "Likud MKs acted responsibly, but the lack of responsibility on the part of the coalition partners has ripped apart the budget by over NIS 2 billion ... I was willing to swallow NIS 1 billion for purposes that touched my heart, such as education, health and the chief scientist, but I am not willing to hand out an additional NIS 1 billion for coalition extravagance."

This sounds like straight talk from a courageous leader. But is this really the case? Was the budget managed correctly? In past years, it was the accepted practice to fork out some NIS 400-NIS 500 million in hush money to MKs in order to win their vote for the budget. About half of this amount was earmarked for "special funds" (ksafim yihudi'im) for the ultra-Orthodox parties. During Silvan Shalom's term as finance minister, these special funds were included in the regular budget (which doesn't prevent the ultra-Orthodox from continuing to submit new demands).

Increasing the amount of "hush money" to NIS 1 billion is a turn for the worse. And anyway, who appointed Netanyahu to be the judge of good taste? What does it mean that he agrees to expand the budget for "purposes that touch his heart?" Maybe members of Shas or Shinui also have goals that "touch their hearts"? After all, Netanyahu does not have a private cash register from which to distribute money according to what "touches his heart."

The behavior of treasury budgets directory Uri Yogev is also not clear. How is it that he presents the government with a plan to cut about NIS 1.4 billion from the education budget, but then agrees to restore half of this cut in negotiations with the Education Ministry that were concluded three weeks ago? Which is not correct - the NIS 1.4 billion or the NIS 700 million?

Netanyahu and Yogev must understand that if they agreed to transfer NIS 1 billion for purposes "close to their hearts," this means that all of the reserves (NIS 1.5 billion) are in danger: What difference is there (from the MKs' perspective) between NIS 1 billion and NIS 1.5 billion?

We cannot rely on the theory that the treasury anticipated the last-minute budget haggling and included items that were already earmarked for compromise. The treasury likes to spin these fables so that people will think that there is some sophisticated strategy at play. But the truth is that the treasury had every intention of sticking by everything written in the original budget proposal approved by the cabinet. Therefore, if another NIS 700 million needs to be cut from the education budget, the treasury has failed.

The finance minister does not need to decide what is "close to his heart." Instead, he should allocate about NIS 400 million for all of the MKs' demands - without making value judgments. The MKs have political constraints and constituencies that sent them to the parliament, and without some "achievements" by members of the Finance Committee during the day of the budget vote, they will not win reelection. This is why it's impossible for us to pass a budget without the "close to my heart" idea.

Netanyahu gives the impression of someone who is not overly concerned by starting the new year without an approved budget. But the truth is that this is a bad sign for the economy, for Israel's credit rating, and for the level of seriousness with which we are regarded in the world at large.