Kindergartens, high schools shut as cities strike over budget cuts

Kindergartens, high schools shut as cities strike over budget cuts

Cities say they cannot provide services with less state money after marathon talks between local authorities, Prime Minister's Office and Finance Ministry fail

Illustrative photo of Israeli high schoolers taking an exam. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Israeli high schoolers taking an exam. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

An umbrella organization representing Israel’s local municipalities embarked on a country-wide strike in protest of planned across-the-board cuts to the state budget, which they have argued will cause damage in the hundreds of millions of shekels to local authorities.

High schools and kindergartens as well as municipal offices were shuttered in cities across the country, and other basic municipal services were called off Wednesday, after marathon talks between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry failed to come to an agreement overnight Tuesday-Wednesday.

The open-ended strike covers 120 local authorities and 15 of the country’s largest municipalities, though Jerusalem is not included.

Elementary and middle schools, where teachers are state workers, remained open, unless instructed to close by their principals, Haaretz reported. Special education programs are exempt from the strike and classes will go on normally.

The local authorities have demanded that the latest cuts to the 2017 budget, along with a previously approved slashing of funds, be canceled completely.

The heads of the local authorities are scheduled to meet later Wednesday to discuss their next steps.

In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon Monday, the Center for Local Government said the slashes would leave local authorities with a total reduction of NIS 250 million in critical state support.

“Cuts to funds will affect around 190 local councils and the services they provide to their population,” the Center said. “The State of Israel delegates responsibility over its population to the local authorities, and they are those who ensure all basic services to every citizen.

“Every year the government asks for more services and demands an increased burden by local leadership, while simultaneously dramatically reducing their budgets.”

The Center warned that “if the treasury does not walk back this terrible edict, municipal services will be halted immediately.”

The cabinet on Sunday approved NIS 1.2 billion ($310 million) in cuts for the 2017-2018 budget in order to finance the relocation of the Amona settlement, establish the new public broadcasting corporation, and build new schools in ultra-Orthodox communities.

Cuts to education, health and welfare ministries were reportedly among the austerity measures approved by ministers in the vote.

The across-the-board cuts amounting to nearly two percent of the total budget, went to a cabinet vote Sunday after Netanyahu, Kahlon and other senior ministry officials agreed the proposed cuts must be approved before the Knesset votes on the overall 2017-2018 budget later this month.

The austerity measures were deemed necessary by the Finance Ministry, citing the costs of constructing temporary housing for Amona residents, funding the yet-to-be established Israel Broadcasting Corporation and the building of new educational institutions in ultra-Orthodox communities, in accordance with coalition agreements.

The ministry said the slashed funds would also help cover costs of armored public buses in the West Bank, the employment of Palestinian workers in Israel and various coalition agreements reached since the budget was first proposed.

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