After hours of deliberation, the Knesset plenum approved Wednesday night the 2015-2016 state budget in its first reading, by a 57-53 vote.
Minister of the Economy Aryeh Machluf Deri, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan were not present at the vote.
The accompanying Economic Arrangements Bill was also approved by the plenum, with the same distribution of votes.
The new budget covers both 2015 and 2016 because the Knesset never passed a 2015 budget, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced new spring elections in December 2014. The government’s spending since January has mostly been done by extending the 2014 budget on a month-by-month basis.
While presenting the budget proposal to the plenum, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said ”This budget is not just accounting; it is a matter of values. Behind the numbers and articles there are people, a concern for their education and health and improving their lives. This is a budget that brings good news and a new order of priorities.”
”This nation deserves change. We are starting to fix social injustices. The time has come for equal opportunities. The biggest threat to Israel is growing social gaps,” he said.
Kahlon further said that ”the budget serves society, instead of society serving the budget.”
The budget will go to the Knesset Finance Committee, which will review it and make changes, and is scheduled to go to a final vote on November 20.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Camp) asked: “You call this a budget? This is how you translated the peace that you promised the nation in the last election? I’m asking you [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, for this budget you dismantled the last government and went to an election?”
“You promised that this time you’ll be concerned with the cost of living and cost of housing; this time you’ll take care of it; this time you’ll notice the distress of the People of Israel; this time you’ll be personally responsible for it,” Herzog said to Netanyahu. “You’re making the People of Israel laugh.”
Addressing Kahlon, Herzog said: “You promised hope. You promised a home. You promised a war on the cost of living, on the banks, on the bloated defense budget. You promised a giant reform in natural gas. You promised and promised and promised.”
“After 100 days [in office] what is left of your promises, Moshe Kahlon, is one big balloon that exploded,” Herzog stated.
According to the Finance Ministry, the defense budget is set at some NIS 56 billion ($14.3 billion), several billions lower than the Defense Ministry’s request. Talks continue between the defense and finance ministries over the final defense budget, and over the Treasury’s demand for significant reforms, including in the army’s manpower policies.
The National Insurance Institute, Israel’s primary state welfare agency, is slated to spend NIS 37 billion ($9.4 billion). The Health Ministry will spend NIS 29.2 billion ($7.4 billion); the Internal Security Ministry, the umbrella for the police and prisons, NIS 15 billion, of them roughly NIS 10 billion for the police; the Welfare Ministry 6.4 billion; local councils NIS 4.4 billion.
Read more about the Arrangements Law: http://knesset.gov.il/lexicon/eng/hesderim_eng.htm