Kahlon Cranks Up Reform Agenda

YERUSHALAYIM -

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon was off to a running start at his new job, as the government approved on Tuesday his proposal for bringing authority for housing reform under his control.

The restructured housing cabinet will exclude the environmental protection minister, to the dismay of the environmental lobby. And, according to the coalition deal, Kahlon will have control of the Israel Lands Authority and takes over planning administration from the Interior Ministry.

Kahlon called it “the first step in a complicated journey to dealing with the housing crisis.”

The finance minister has his sights not only on housing but on the entire economy, and is preparing a raft of legislative and bureaucratic reforms to increase competition and enhance growth.

There are plans ready-to-go to address lack of competition, he said. “If we manage to advance 15 percent of them, the economic situation in the country will improve,” he said. “Needless to say, … we are committed to growth; we are committed to increasing the size of the pie, to helping business and benefiting the citizens of Israel.”

Although, as finance minister, Kahlon must be mindful of spending limitations and deficit targets, he did not sound like the typical finance minister when, earlier in the week, he came out in favor of child allotments, which had been high on the agenda of the chareidi parties during coalition talks.

“During the negotiations, we were attacked about the child allotments and I’m telling you here: I support child allotments. I am not prepared that, in a country in which I am a minister, that one child will eat and the other will watch him, hungry. Not on my watch,” Kahlon said.

The coalition agreement rolled back the policy of his predecessor, Yair Lapid, who had cut allotments to a flat rate. Now, as before Lapid’s tenure, the government subsidy increases for every subsequent child, which particularly helps large families.

The price tag is estimated at about NIS 2.75 billion.

There will be a price to pay for housing reform too, though for the time being it may be mostly political. The exclusion of the environmental protection minister from the housing cabinet drew the ire of green groups.

“It is unacceptable that in a panel with such great influence on all the Israeli public, the environmental protection minister will not be a member,” a statement from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said.

SPNI CEO Moshe “Kosha” Pakman appealed to Kahlon on Monday, expressing his “amazement” that the environment minister would be dropped from the cabinet.

“How can it be that a committee that will discuss and decide upon projects of environmental significance does not include the Environmental Protection Ministry?” Pakman wrote to Kahlon.