Israel cabinet approves 2021-2022 state budget, parliament next

Israel cabinet approves 2021-2022 state budget, parliament next

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem August 1, 2021. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS

By Steven Scheer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s cabinet unanimously approved on Monday a state budget for 2021-2022, more than three years after the government last ratified a fiscal spending package, the finance ministry and the prime minister’s office said.

After a marathon session running from Sunday morning through the night, cabinet ministers voted on an expected spending package of 605.9 billion shekels ($188 billion) in 2021 and 560 billion shekels in 2022.

That includes extra funds to fight the coronavirus pandemic and debt servicing.

The vote came after the health minister’s demands for more funds were met.

The budget next heads to parliament, which is expected to take its initial vote in early September, with final approval for the 14-month budget set by early November.

The budget deficit is projected at 6.8% of gross domestic product in 2021 and 3.9% in 2022, after hitting 11.6% in 2020.

“After long discussions, we passed a responsible budget,” said Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

He said the state was investing huge amounts in infrastructure, transport and real estate and passed key reforms making it easier to do business, by lowering barriers and cutting bureaucracy.

Two years of political stalemate and four elections, have left Israel still using a pro-rated version of the 2019 state budget passed in March 2018.

A new government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a former software entrepreneur, took office in mid-June and unseated Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years in office.

“After three years of stagnation Israel is back to work,” Bennett said after the vote. “Israel in 2021 is sowing the future for our children and grandchildren in 2051.”

In an economic plan accompanying the budget, ministers approved measures from freeing up imports to cutting the cost of living and boosting the age of women’s retirement to 65 from 62.

It also will encourage employment, invest in infrastructure – transport, housing, technology and energy – and reform the long-protected domestic farm sector.

Citing a doubling of fresh produce costs the past decade, Lieberman seeks more imports while the state will invest to make farmers, who oppose the plan, more innovative and efficient.

($1=3.2301 shekels)

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