The Bottom Line / It's All Politics

When Benjamin Netanyahu was finance minister, he was gung-ho for reforms. He went to war against the high and mighty, such as the banks and the ports.

But when the head of the treasury's Budgets Division proposed reforms in the local authorities to Netanyahu, he said there is a limit. That is impossible. There is no chance that such reforms would ever pass the Knesset. But what he really meant was that there was no chance that the reforms would ever get past him.

So when then interior minister Avraham Poraz wanted to combine dozens of local authorities, the Knesset headed off his reforms - except for a very few small places with no political clout.

And when the excellent idea arose to appoint new treasurers acting on behalf of the Finance Ministry - just like in all government ministries - for municipalities which overspent their budgets, the proposal was never even brought up for discussion.

And right now when there is a need to remove all the mayors - without a single exception - who exceed their budgets, do not collect local taxes, hire friends and relatives, do not pay their workers, and do not transfer the moneys they deduct for retirement funds - then Bar-On simply does not even dream about really taking such a step.

Because it's all politics.

Because it's all personal.

The heads of the local authorities have a huge amount of political power in the parties' central committees. In practice, they are the supreme vote suppliers, and they are of the greatest importance on the eve of elections.

That is why now, the very same Netanyahu wants to let all the mayors who remained in the Likud, and did not desert to Kadima, be the official Likud candidates in the next round of local elections in 2008 - without a need to run in a primary.

Netanyahu wants them to stay in the Likud, and not be tempted to flee to Kadima. And since from his position as head of the opposition Netanyahu cannot shower them with money - he can at least make them candidates.

This is also the reason for the gentle handling, the consideration, and the deep feelings of Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson, Interior Minister Bar-On, and of course Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, for trying to help as many local authority heads as possible.

This is also the real basis for their incredible hatred of the treasury's accountant general, Yaron Zelekha, who is blocking their path and stopping a quick flow of money to the municipalities.

Zelekha opposes the present recovery plans for the local authorities. He thinks they are one great fiction.

The plans are made up of three parts: efficiency measures; a state grant; and a loan from a commercial bank.

But everyone knows that the efficiency plan is just a bluff - only a piece of paper. Everyone also knows that commercial banks will never put up money for the weak municipalities; they have no way of ever paying the loan back. Therefore, the bottom line is that all they will really get is the government grant; and when they are done "eating" that money, the crisis will simply break out once again.

It turns out that the recovery plans are only for the medium-term. That way, around the time of the 2008 local elections the grants will run out, and the mayors will be forced to return to Kadima's ministers and beg for more money. And the minute they get their hands on the money, they will obviously understand what is expected of them politically.

Remember, we are talking about local authority heads who dare to not pay their workers salaries, and do not transfer the money they have deducted from the workers' paychecks to their retirement accounts. But at the same time they are continuing to pay outside suppliers.

After all, they understand a little bit about the media and politics. They know that it is always necessary to put pressure on the most sensitive, most painful point - until everyone screams and releases money for them. That is the height of cynicism.