Knesset Cmte. approves 2004 state budget

04/01/2004 By Zvi Zrahiya, Haaretz Correspondent The Knesset Finance Committee on Sunday evening approved the 2004 state budget legislation as well as the Economic Arrangements Bill (supplementary legislation to the budget) for second and third readings at the Knesset plenum.

The state budget was approved with a majority of nine in favor and seven opposed. The Knesset plenum on Sunday began its discussions on the two bills prior to the Knesset Committee’s approval. The Knesset is expected to hold a marathon debate to pass the budget bills, and to vote on their second and third readings on Wednesday. The Finance Committee resumed voting on the bills on Sunday afternoon, a short time after chairman MK Abraham Hirchson (Likud) suspended the panel’s vote following a disagreement over the planned closure of the Agriculture Ministry’s fresh produce supervisory department. The cabinet approved the closure of the department some four months ago, at the suggestion of the Finance Ministry. But the head of the Civil Servants Union, Ofer Eini, claims that an agreement between the state and the Histadrut labor federation, due to be signed Sunday by Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Histadrut chairman Amir Peretz, states that the department will not be closed. The sides were thus negotiating Sunday to find a solution to the dispute. In light of Eini’s claims, Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander told the committee that the matter should be reconsidered. Eini warned that the closure of the department would prompt another crisis between the treasury and Histadrut. One proposal suggested during the committee meeting was the establish a new, separate fresh produce supervisory department to replace the current unit, which employs 73 people. Hirchson called on the treasury on Sunday to work out a solution with the Histadrut o the issue. The heads of the parties in the coalition are attempting to convince the chairman of the Knesset Committee on the Defense Budget, MK Uri Ariel (National Union), to convene the panel to discuss the details of the defense budget. Ariel last week refused to do this, saying that the budget contains unrealistic targets. BPI.