By Zvi Zrahiya
The Likud may try to terminate or defer some of the multi-billion-shekel private bills that are still in the pipeline, Likud whip Reuven Rivlin told
yesterday. Likud sources said this could only take place after a new government headed by prime minister-elect Ariel Sharon is in place and a new finance minister named.
When the Knesset reconvenes next week, the second and third reading of several of populist bills will be on the agenda. The cost of these bills, including one giving tax breaks to Negev residents, and one for grants to home buyers in Jerusalem, is estimated at NIS 1.5 billion.
The government will not however seek to rescind a recently enacted law granting increased support to families with five children or more, Rivlin said.
Confidantes of prime minister elect Ariel Sharon said yesterday that if the Likud gets to keep the treasury portfolio - that is, if it is not handed over to Labor in a unity government, MK Silvan Shalom will be the leading candidate for the job.
MK Meir Sheetrit, another name frequently mentioned in this context, will then be assigned another portfolio. The Likud hopes to form a government within 10 days, so the budget bill can be passed into law by the end of March. If the Sharon government fails to pass the budget bill by March 31, the Knesset will be dissolved and general elections will be called.
The new finance minister will probably ask the Knesset to approve the NIS 240 billion budget Finance Minister Avraham Shochat proposed four months ago. But about half a billion shekels will probably be shifted around to gain the support of the Haredi and immigrant parties. Likud hopes to secure them as coalition partners if it fails to establish a national unity government with the Labor party.
The National Religious Party, Shas and United Torah Judaism all religious parties - have started tabling budget demands in return for supporting the budget bill.
MK Nahume Langental (National Religious Party) said his party would seek another NIS 200 million, mainly for high school students in state religious schools, for girls' high schools, and to re-introduce 16,000 school hours Barak cut from state religious education.
The money would also go toward the settlements in the territories,
(religious institutions combining military service with religious studies) and religious schools in development towns.
Shas and United Torah Judaism demand that yeshiva funding be made an integral part of the budget to replace the transfers made in mid-year by the Knesset Finance Committee.
Even if no unity government is established, two senior Labor MKs, Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Elie Goldschmidt and coalition whip Ophir Pines-Paz, said yesterday they will recommend that Labor support the budget if it is based on the version Shochat submitted four months ago.
Goldschmidt announced last night on Channel Two he would be resigning from the Knesset because of "back stabbing in the Labor Party." However, he said, "passing a budget is a national interest, and the Labor Party must not turn it into a tool for political attacks on the new government."