The Bottom Line / There Goes the Buck

In American slang, a buck - a male deer - is used for a dollar. But there is another slang use, taken from "pass the buck" in poker, and that is for "responsibility."

In American slang, a buck - a male deer - is used for a dollar. But there is another slang use, taken from "pass the buck" in poker, and that is for "responsibility." President Truman was proud of "The Buck Stops Here" notice propped up on his desk. The meaning was clear: Responsibility and authority ends right here with the man behind the desk.

In the American administration, responsibility is clear-cut and well-known, and no one undermines it. The president, as national leader, carries the most responsibility, even in the trickiest of situations. In the Israeli government on the other hand, responsibility is much more fluid. Sometimes the government takes it, when it comes with power, but when it requires making personal conclusions, then it is more wary of taking it up.

The Histadrut shut down the economy yesterday, based on a crisis of pay for many local government workers. The labor federation is demanding that these people receive their due pay, and that their wages should not be withheld for months on end. It would be hard to think of a more justified reason to strike. Receiving wages is a fundamental right of every worker, and it is an outright scandal - let alone breaking the law - that anyone has been denied his full wages.

It would be expected then that these local authority workers would resort to every means - strikes and legal action - against those behind the outrage. However, the general strike is illegitimate. Its reasoning is completely just, but its target - the government, the treasury - is the wrong one. The Israeli government is not the one that held back wages from the local authority workers. The treasury does not pay their wages, and does not employ them. Benjamin Netanyahu is not the local authority workers' boss. Their bosses are the mayors. They employ the workers, they pay their wages, and are responsible for them - morally and legally. To be exact, they ought to be responsible for them. In practice, though, their responsibility lies in the power that they have carved up among their deputies. They run away from responsibility when it requires taking a close look at mismanagement, and when it brings the authorities to the brink of disaster.

The government did, indeed, cut back on allocations to local authorities, thereby worsening their situation. In recent years, the government has cut back on practically everything in sight, all ministries and even to National Insurance welfare payments. It has not been easy in recent years to be a single parent when your welfare assistance has been sharply reduced. It's not easy being a mayor, either, when your government handout has been drying up in recent years. But then being mayor is not just about enjoying the freebies, but taking the buck. As a manager, a mayor ought to find the way to manage with reduced budgets or "hand back the keys."

In this scenario, many mayors decided to pass the buck upward. Instead of taking responsibility for the management of their cities, as is demanded in difficult situations, they fled, refused to implement recovery plans, and preferred to dip into the public coffers, the money from taxpayers. They abandoned responsibility, proving themselves unworthy of the job. Here lies the very proof that local government needs a great shake-up, and that the steps taken by the treasury against the local authorities are justified.