Kristine L Ming

Israeli cabinet approves 2019 state budget

After last-minute objections from government ministers and haggling with Treasury officials, the cabinet approved the 2019 state budget unanimously Friday morning.

The 2019 budget totals NIS 479.4 billion ($140b.) in expenditures.

According to a summary of the budget released by the Finance Ministry, the education budget will come to NIS 60 billion, the health budget will total NIS 38 billion, the welfare budget and funding for Holocaust survivors is estimated at NIS 13 billion and funding for the Defense Ministry will amount to NIS 63 billion.

The 2019 deficit will be 2.9% of GDP. It is expected to sink to 2.5% of GDP in 2020.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the approval of the budget.

“The government today approved an excellent budget and an excellent law that expresses our consistent and responsible policy — a budget that on the one hand maintains growth and economic strength, and on the other hand, takes care of the social needs of all Israeli citizens.”

Several cabinet members publicly criticized the budget before it passed for proposed cuts to their ministries, including Culture Minister Miri Regev, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. Another dissenter was Interior Minister Arye Deri, who boycotted the cabinet meeting in protest of proposed cuts to religious affairs, which would see NIS 11 million taken away from adult Torah learning.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the unusual move of passing a 2019 budget nearly a year in advance in order to stabilize the coalition, which won’t have to deal with another budget before an election is legally required – in November 2019.

Kahlon hailed the budget as revolutionary, claiming it “establishes a new order of distribution.”

“The budget for 2019 is a social budget that focuses on the growth and strengthening of the Israeli economy… The finance minister is not a treasurer, his job is to grow the economy and channel the fruits of growth to the right places for many years. This budget continues the social revolution and establishes a new order of distribution. “

Among the budget’s reforms are greater subsidies for nursing, lowering the price of private surgeries, shortening Passover and Hanukka school vacations for children up to the third grade, reducing the use of cash, and shortening the work week.

Speaking Thursday at the Globes Israel Business Conference in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the budget would contribute to Israel’s above-OECD-average economic growth, with predictions for 3.5% GDP growth next year.

“Today, we will pass the [first reading of the] budget, and in two-months’ time, we will pass it on the second and third readings in the Knesset. This [budget] gives us stability, provides us a basis for growth, and gives us a basis for taking care of diverse security and social needs, as well as the needs of the State of Israel.”

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