April 11, 2013

Israeli transport minister slams proposed budget cuts

Written by  Jeremaya Goldberg
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ISRAEL's national transport, infrastructure and roads safety minister Mr Yisarel Katz has sharply criticised new finance minister Mr Yair Lapid's plans to cut the infrastructure budget, particularly that allocated to rail, as part of efforts to reduce the country's Shekels 39bn ($US 10.76bn) budget deficit.

Katz described Lapid and his team as "poor, short-sighted and ego-centric clerks" who care only about the already developed Tel Aviv and "not giving a damn about the periphery." He said that planned cuts to lines already under construction including Acre - Carmiel and Haifa - Beit - Shean will result in compensation claims which may cost more than completing the projects, and suggested that he might apply to the state controller to see if the cancellations are legal.

"[It] will cost the treasury billions. It will involve broken promises and a loss of trust by those residents who live in the periphery," he said.

In response, the finance ministry says that projects like the Tel Aviv metro and light rail and new light rail lines in Jerusalem will not be affected by the proposed cuts, and that they have no intention of cancelling any of the projects. Instead the plan is to delay them for several years.

However, both the finance ministry and Katz concluded that with discussions over Israel's 2013 budget continuing, ultimately the extent of the cuts is at the discretion of prime minister Mr Benjamin Netanyahu. Officials say that with Israel's deficit equivalent to 4.2% of GDP, more than double expected, severe cuts in public spending and new taxes are required. Lapid is due to meet with Netanyahu today to discuss the matter.

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