After marathon meetings lasting through the night, the government on Wednesday morning passed the 2009-2010 state budget in a 26-4 vote, with four Shas ministers opposing.
The move was facilitated by a deal reached with Histadrut National Labor Federation Chief Ofir Eini. The budget calls for a 5% cut in funding for government agencies, which does include a NIS 1.5 billion cut in defense spending, agreed to by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Yisrael Beitenu threatened to oppose the budget at well, but at the end, only Shas ministers made good on their threat as did Education Minister (Likud) Gideon Saar, who also raised his hand in favor of the budget which includes widespread education cuts. Saar announced he could not support major cuts in his ministry, which will have a disastrous impact on the nation’s education system, but at the end of the day, he voted for it.
Following the announcement of the passing of the budget, senior treasury official Ram Belinkov, who heads the budget division, tendered his resignation, expressing sharp criticism over the budget and directed harsh remarks at the prime minister’s economic advisor, Uri Yogev. Belinkov explained in his letter than in light of events during recent weeks, he cannot continue in his senior post.
The Shas ministers opposed the budget in opposition to the decision to implement value added tax on fruit and vegetables, which has not been the case to date. The VAT tax will also be increased from 15.5% to 16%, and Shas leader Eli Yishai stated that such an increase on produce will make feeding a family virtually impossible for many Israelis already struggling to put food on the table.
(Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel)