Kudos to Finance Minister Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party in which I proudly serve, for presenting Israel with a budget of strength and hope. When we entered the Knesset in February 2013 we were faced with a 40 billion shekel deficit. We passed a budget for 2014 replete with cuts all across the board – cuts that made us very unpopular but they were the responsible course of action. Now, we see the positive results of those cuts with our ability to pay for a 50 day military operation (between 7 and 8 billion shekel) within the 2014 budget and the ability to look forward to a 2015 budget with increases in both defense and domestic spending to address the country’s most pressing needs.
Operation Protective Edge has left all of us with security foremost on our minds. To this end, the 2015 budget will include 6 billion additional NIS which will be added to the previously 51 billion shekel defense budget. Our remarkable soldiers deserve the best equipment and technology to enable them to continue doing a superb job in defending our country and we won’t allow for any shortcuts in this realm. This additional amount will help provide solutions to the tunnel and mortar threat, enable the development of greater protection for tanks and APC’s, and allow for expansion of the army’s cyber and intelligence technologies.
The 2015 budget will include an increase of 1.8 billion shekels for education beyond the annual increase for natural growth. These funds will allow for the new summer programming to include third and fourth grades. This saves parents the costs of other summer programs and provides students with additional learning hours that are both serious and fun. It will also allow for a new program to be announced shortly which will provide students with meaningful programming while their parents are still at work instead of simply being watched by babysitters. These funds will continue the progress in the development of technology based schools which already started and the establishment of 400 new day care centers.
The health budget will increase by 2.8 billion shekel beyond its annual increase. 500 million shekel will go to implement the findings of the committee headed by Health Minister Yael German to dramatically improve the quality of health care and health services. This increase will enable the ministry to reform mental health services, include more medications in the health basket, increase the number of beds in hospitals, improve health services in the periphery and provide weaker sectors with reductions in costs of medication.
Internal security will receive a boost of one billion shekel in the new budget. This will enable the hiring of approximately 1,100 new policemen, firemen, and prison officials. It will also allow for major improvements in the technological system used by the police force and in the battle against corruption.
The welfare ministry will receive 2 billion shekel more in 2015. These funds will help with the implementation of the “Aging with dignity” program which will free 200,000 senior citizens from the cycle of poverty, will assist single parents, will provide more of the neediest children with hot lunches at school, and will provide additional professional assistance to broken homes. This is in addition to an extra billion shekel to assist Holocaust survivors with free medications and stipends for daily living which go straight to their bank accounts.
This government is also hard at work to bring down the cost of living including housing costs. The 0% VAT on new homes will go into effect shortly and will work alongside a series of housing reforms including increasing the amount of new homes being built, pricing regulations for government owned lands, and the construction of 150,000 rental units.
A series of reforms will reduce monthly electricity costs by 12-15% starting in January alongside a 10% reduction in monthly water bills. Increased employment (our programs and projects have led to a 39% increase in the Haredi sector), new business and academic ties with the East, and legislative changes to increase global investment in Israel are among the many paradigm shifts will further strengthen our economy.
Thanks to last year’s painful but responsible budget, all of these improvements will be made without having to raise taxes. The deficit target will go up to 3.4% which is far below the target of 4.65% in last year’s budget. We will work to deal with that deficit from other sources including more efficient tax collecting and combating the black market.
I proudly voted in favor of the budget’s first reading in the Knesset and will work to prepare it for its second and third readings as a member of the Finance Committee. The 2015 budget sets forth a social and domestic agenda demonstrates responsible leadership and much needed hope for a brighter future in Israel.