Knesset Committee Approves First Reading to Extend Budget Deadline

The plenum hall of the Knesset. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

By a vote of 7 to 5, the House Committee on Monday approved for its first reading in the Knesset plenum a bill that would extend Tuesday night’s deadline to pass the state budget.

If approved in its second and third readings, the bill, an amendment to Basic Law: The Knesset, would delay the deadline for passing ​the 2020 state budget from Tuesday midnight, December 23, to next Wednesday at midnight, December 31. The deadline for approving a budget covering 2021 would be January 5. If the budgets are not passed by said dates, the bill stipulates that the Knesset will automatically dissolve and elections will be held on March 23, 2021.

During the debate which preceded the vote, Central Elections Committee Director Adv. Orly Adas said the bill essentially “freezes” the Elections Committee’s work until January 5, 2021. “If elections will in fact be held, we will have 76 days to prepare for the most complex election campaign we have ever had. This is not a practical amount of time. It has nothing to do with professional capability, it’s simply impossible. Unless we start working immediately and have 90 work days, there is a risk that the elections will not be held in the proper manner we expect.”

She called to add clauses to the bill that will allow the Central Elections Committee to begin its work at once, rather than have to wait for developments. She also asked that the Elections Committee receive NIS 60 million in advance for publishing tenders.

MK Miki Zohar (Likud) said solutions must be found for the Central Elections Committee’s predicament. Acting House Committee Chairman MK Rabbi Yitzchak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism) called on the Central Elections Committee to “convene immediately and prepare a budget proposal.” Odds are, he said, that elections will be held on March 23, 2021.

Acting Knesset legal advisor Adv. Sagit Afek said the selection of January 5, 2021 as the deadline for passing the 2021 state budget “significantly curtails the Knesset’s practical ability to supervise and legislate the budget bill at an applicable and realistic date.”

The bill is a compromise between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Blue and White head and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to postpone the dissolvement of the Knesset and go to a fourth election round in less then two years.

Blue and White MKs Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Assaf Zamir, Miki Chaimovich and Ram Shefa stated they will not support the bill that will postpone the budget approval date.

Former MK Gideon Sa’ar lashed out at the deal to delay the deadline to pass the state budget and prevent early elections.

“This government was formed more than seven months ago, and they still have not gotten around to bringing the budget for a vote,” Sa’ar said. “Now they want to pass a budget within a week?

“There has never been a government that did more to shame the Knesset, mock the citizens and harm our democracy than the current one. Israeli citizens deserve to have a government that puts the good of its citizens first.”

Sa’ar is one of those who loses out if there are not new elections now, as he is no longer an MK, and his new party will need to wait a little longer to run in the Knesset.

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