Local Authorities Strike After Budget Talks Fail

YERUSHALAYIM -
Mayor of Modiin and Local Authority head Chaim Bibas. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Kindergartens, high schools and many elementary schools were closed Wednesday after last-minute negotiations to avoid a strike of local authorities failed. As of 6 a.m. Wednesday, workers in local authorities went on strike, with services generally supplied by the government – including education, trash collection and parking enforcement – halted. One notable exception is the Yerushalayim municipality, where workers decided not to strike, and where services are being provided as normal.

At issue is a cut in the budget of government grants to local authorities, part of an overall slashing of the budget to pay for new social programs, including the funding of savings accounts of NIS 50 per month for every Israeli aged 18 and under. The cuts were approved Monday night by the Knesset Finance Committee, which ratified the NIS 950 billion biannual state budget for a Knesset vote in the coming days. By law, if the budget is not ratified by December 31, the government must disperse itself and new elections will be called.

Negotiations on the cuts – and demand by local authorities to restore them – have been going on for weeks, with local governments claiming they will not be able to pay their bills under the circumstances. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu joined the talks Tuesday night in an attempt to achieve a last-minute breakthrough, intervention that proved to be futile. Local authority heads and mayors are set to gather in the Knesset Wednesday to decide their next moves.

In a statement, the Local Authorities Organization said that “everyone involved came to negotiate without an agenda – except for the Finance Ministry, who stubbornly refused to concede anything, including at least the preservation of previous levels of expenditure in over 190 local authorities.”

Modiin Mayor Chaim Bibas, who heads the group, said in an interview on Army Radio that local authorities were no less important than other “needy” groups and entities, many of which were seeing increased funding. “The bottom line is that without this money mayors will not be able to pay employees of local authorities their salaries,” Bibas said.

In response, the Finance Ministry said in a statement that it was looking out for local authorities, especially small ones, and it had set up a special fund to assist the smaller, weaker ones.