In interviews he has given over the past few days, Israel’s next Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich has been giving hints about the policies he intends implementing based on no tax hikes and keeping the promises of the Religious Zionist party and its coalition partners. This includes food vouchers for the needy at a cost of NIS 1 billion, raising grants to yeshiva students, and promoting steps to ease the cost of living crisis, and not necessarily the same things that Prime Minister elect Benjamin Netanyahu committed to.
Generous with his partners
Smotrich has been very careful not to set out his aims for the upcoming budget right now. As far as he is concerned, he is still studying the options and is expected to set policy in stages, as he did in the Ministry of Transport. So he met with the top Ministry of Finance officials, workers, journalists and the public to prioritize tasks. He is planning a generous budget, based on the demands of the coalition partners, which cost many billions: food vouchers, Haredi education, yeshiva students, NIS 7 billion for the Ministry of National Security and police salaries, and more.
Smotrich will rely on the high state revenues from the past year, as well as increasing the next budget to take inflation into account. In order not to breach the spending ceiling and enter into a deficit not all the coalition promises will be fully realized. He concedes, “There will be constraints and we will present alternatives.”
But Smotrich is inclined to be generous with his coalition partners just as he expects them to push ahead with reforming the justice system and allowing renewed settlement activity in Northern Samaria in the area of Homesh, and more.
Regarding the promise by Netanyahu and his Haredi partners for the Free Education Bill for babies and infants aged 0-3, that is expected to wait until the next budget, or at least to be introduced in stages.
Smotrich, like his predecessor, intends to work in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance’s top officials. He will work to advance significant reforms with them, while trying to realize a number of coalition promises. For example, the yeshiva student allowances, and reforms to encourage Haredi employment.
Despite the war declared on him by the Histadrut, even before he has announced his policies, he will seek to meet with the Histadrut leadership, employers, other branches of the economy – before announcing his steps. Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David will need to tone down his rhetoric at least until he has met with Smotrich and discovered what he is really planning.