So Who Should Pay?

If a worldwide populism contest had been held this week, our Knesset members would have won hands down, thanks to their original call to violate a law they themselves enacted.

If a worldwide populism contest had been held this week, our Knesset members would have won hands down, thanks to their original call to violate a law they themselves enacted. Five MKs were involved: Ronit Tirosh, Ahmed Tibi, Rachel Adatto, Uri Ariel and Orit Zuaretz. All urged the public not to pay the drought tax, adding that they themselves did not intend to pay this "evil tax." They even plan to publish a special leaflet advising citizens how to refuse the cruel authorities' demands.

The principles of democracy and respect for the law do not interest them. And in effect, they are defending the wealthy - the owners of luxury homes with huge gardens. Only for these people is the tax truly painful.

In the leaflet, the MKs teach citizens how to wear down the authorities so they cannot collect the drought tax. They advise people to demand that their municipal tax bill be separated from their water bill, offer suggestions on how to harass the local authority with questions and urge people to stop paying their municipal bills via standing bank orders.

And what if the local authority shuts off a resident's water? What if it slaps him with fines and late payment fees? Will the MKs pay the fines for him?

For years, MKs have been accusing the government of not doing enough to solve the water shortage. Now it has finally done something: It sharply reduced fresh water allocations to farmers, increased the number of desalination facilities (a long-term solution) and even imposed a tax (of NIS 20 per cubic meter beyond 16 cubic meters per household) in order to immediately reduce water usage.

MKs, and some commentators as well, claimed that the tax would not reduce consumption. They were wrong. It turns out that the laws of economics do work, and the moment the price rises, demand falls. The tax resulted in the conservation of 80 million cubic meters of water, a significant amount. That will help both the aquifers and Lake Kinneret, which are both below their red lines.

The drought tax law is not perfect; it has some troubling elements. But the MKs haven't touched these. They haven't even broached the inequity inherent in the new tax, which is levied only on urban consumers and doesn't affect the agricultural sector at all.

Even at this time of crisis, the agricultural lobby succeeded in deflecting the evil decree. Their success stems from their long-standing, vehement opposition to installing separate water meters for their houses and farms, making it impossible to distinguish between household consumption and agricultural consumption, and thus to levy the drought tax on them.

They have promised to install such meters by this coming January, but I'm willing to bet it won't happen, because the agricultural lobby will find new reasons why the evil decree should once again be postponed. This is also the reason for the sudden outcry against the tax we are now witnessing: The kibbutzim and moshavim want it canceled by the end of the year, to ensure they never have to pay.

Israel is located on the edge of a desert, and it has years-long droughts. Therefore, it cannot allow itself to waste water. Yet our water and sewage infrastructure is maintained extremely poorly. Water pipes leak, and sewage pipes break and pollute the groundwater.

The Water Authority and the Finance Ministry's budget division are hoping to solve these problems via a reform to raise water prices (independent of the drought tax) as of January 1. The goal is to provide the water companies with more money that they can then invest in improving our water infrastructure. Moreover, buying desalinated water automatically raises the price of water.

To this, MK Miri Regev responds: "It's true that desalinating water costs a lot of money, but it's not right that the citizen should pay." So who should pay - Superman?

In 1773, 60 residents of Boston boarded three ships carrying tea from China to the British colonies in America. They threw all the tea into the harbor as part of their protest "no taxation without representation." Our MKs also want to enter the history books via a tax revolt. But we have taxation with representation - and above all, a plethora of cheap populism that devours everything good for the sake of headlines, publicity and the next primary election.