Court: No More Two Year Budgets, Unless Basic Law Changed

A view of the High Court building in Yerushalayim.

The High Court on Wednesday used its far reaching power to declare illegal the method by which the government builds its budget. In response to a petition by the Academic Center for Justice, the court ruled that the current temporary system whereby the government approves a two year budget is a violation of the Basic Law on Government, and that the government can no longer pass one, unless that Basic Law is adjusted.

The current two year budget, which covers 2017 and 2018, will not be struck down. That gives the government a year or so to pass those changes if it wants to continue its practice. The government under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began developing biennial budgets in 2009, and has done so every year since then. The move was supported by all government ministries, and Netanyahu has advocated doing so, claiming that doing so prevents excessive political jockeying and crises.

By passing a biennial budget, Netanyahu has said, the government has more time to actually govern, instead of spending half the year micro-managing coalition crises and party power struggles as various groups and factions seek to get a cut of the budget for their own purposes. The petitioners claimed that that was exactly what was wrong with the biennial budget; it cuts in half the ability of the opposition to get its voice heard and pass laws and obtain budgets for causes that the majority of MKs may be paying less than sufficient attention to.

In addition, said the petitioners, the method of using a “temporary order” to implement the two year budget – an order that is signed by the Prime Minister every two years, allowing for the passage of the budget – is unconstitutional. If the government wants to change the method of budget development, it’s welcome to do so – after the appropriate laws are passed. In general, changing a Basic Law is considered a difficult and complicated process, but the Basic Law on Government, passed in 2001, can be amended by a majority of 61 MKs, according to the law itself.

In her first statement on a ruling after receiving the nod for Chief Justice, Esther Hayut said that the biennial budget “raises questions on unworthy uses of basic laws, subverting them to temporary overrides.” Such temporary overrides are supposed to be temporary, and after nearly a decade of use, “the method has superannuated itself.”

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