Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's biennial budget bill passed its first Knesset reading Monday. Sixty-four Knesset members voted in favor of unifying the 2009 and 2010 State budgets, and 42 voted against.
Ministers Silvan Shalom (Likud) and Eli Yishai (Shas), as well as labor MKs Eitan Cabel, Shelly Yacimovich, Ophir Pines-Paz, Yuli Tamir and Amir Peretz were absent form the vote.
The Knesset plenum also approved a temporary provision allowing the Treasury 106 days to formulate the final biennial budget, as opposed to the 45 days stipulated for an annual budget bill.
Members of the opposition voiced their objection to the plan, but Steinitz defended the move, saying it earned the support of many financial experts who, as he, deem it necessary in light of the economical crisis.
The bill has now been turned over to the Knesset's Finance Committee for further deliberation. It will then be brought before the House for a second and third vote.
Former Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima), who opposes the bill, called the motion "a cynical use of the political circumstances to trample over the minority (opinion).
"What the (government) is about to do is unprecedented and unheard of. The way the government wants to change a Basic Law, to get an extension on the budget, is wrong on three levels – procedural, fundamental and constitutional."
According the Bar-On, the financial ambiguity of the present makes it impossible to formulate a biennial budget, since "it is impossible to make any macroeconomic assumptions which could support it."
The move, he added, is not meant to circumvent the Knesset's laws, bur rather "to give us the time we need to study the bill."
As for the claims that pursuing a biennial budget is wrong, Steinitz said that "there is an overwhelming majority of experts who think that under the circumstances it is the lesser of the evils. There is no other choice and it will allow us to deal with the economic crisis."