The Bottom Line / The Knesset Forgot Something

The Knesset approved the 2008 budget in its first reading last Wednesday, along with its companion, the Economic Arrangements Law.

And now MKs can breathe a bit easier. Among the dozens of cuts and decrees that the treasury hid in the two laws, the Finance Ministry never dared to touch the MKs' salaries or any of their other benefits.

The salaries of MKs, the president, the Knesset speaker and judges will be updated at the beginning of January, based on the average wage. If things don't change radically before then, their salaries will rise about 3.6 percent. At the same time, the salaries of the prime minister and other ministers is linked to the consumer price index, and they will rise "only" 2.6 percent.

While senior officials will enjoy their pay raises, the poor will see their benefits eroded once again. The treasury again showed that it knows how to handle the poor, but is scared to death of the powerful.

The treasury asked to freeze National Insurance Institute allowances in 2008: those for the disabled, elderly, single parents, new immigrants and the unemployed.

The real value of their benefits will not be updated - even though they are not very high, in any case.

The treasury's proposal to freeze the allowances does not require any such thing from senior officials, including those in the treasury.

This proposal is insensitive and stupid. The salary increases for senior officials are worth thousands of shekels each, while the poor and weak will have to give up a few loaves of bread or a little bit of cheese so that they can stay within their budgets.

If the economic situation is so bad that we need to freeze the tiny update in allowances, then we need to freeze that same update for our elected representatives, and the civil servants whose wages are linked to them.

But the decision is in the hands of the MKs, and therefore, if they want to worry about the weak, as many claim, they need to vote down the treasury's proposal to freeze allowances. The NIS 125 million a year needed to update the benefits can come from various under-spent budgetary lines, for example.

At the same time, it would not do MKs any harm if they were to vote to cancel the distortion in how their salaries are calculated and instead were to link them to the CPI - or even better, to the salaries of social workers or nurses, for example.

Six years ago, as a result of the big jump in the average wage, MKs adopted the treasury's proposal to change how the prime minister and other ministers' salaries are calculated.

But it turns out that the MKs simply forgot one other thing - to change how their own salaries are determined.

Maybe they knew something: that the average wage was rising much faster than the CPI due to the booming high-tech sector.

It will be interesting to see whether MKs act to change how their salaries rise - and whether they dare tell the treasury that they cannot hurt the weak when the fat cats are enjoying raises.

Or maybe the MKs will just fall into line, vote as they are told and freeze allowances for the poor, while their own wallets fill up.