Ministers on Sunday approved a plan to encourage ministries and government offices to move to Jerusalem, including levying sanctions on those that remain outside the capital.
According to the plan, any national government unit that has not received special permission from an exemptions committee to remain outside Jerusalem will need to submit a detailed plan for transfer to the capital within 120 days.
The Finance Ministry will end furniture and renovations budgets for government offices that do not move, and as soon as a property is earmarked in Jerusalem for that office, funds for rent and property taxes will be deducted from the relevant ministry’s budget, even if the Jerusalem property is not used — meaning the ministry would effectively be paying double rent and taxes on two properties.
The decision is aimed at strengthening Jerusalem’s position as the capital of Israel and the seat of government. In addition, it is hoped that the city’s economy will be bolstered with an increase in the number of jobs, was well as providing a significant boost in funds for the municipality generated through property taxes.
The Haaretz daily reported that some 100 units of government have not moved to Jerusalem, despite previous decisions on the matter, and as a result, thousands of government employees are working outside the capital.
Those units include the Israel Prison Service, the Health Ministry’s food division, the police fraud and traffic units, and the tech divisions of the ministries of transportation and education.
The Jerusalem municipality and the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry have for many years tried to promote the transfer of government offices. However, a reluctance on the part of workers who refuse to move has led to buildings sitting empty in the capital at a monthly cost of millions of shekels to the state.
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who also served in that capacity in previous coalitions, was a key supporter of the plan and it was a condition of his New Hope party joining Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition.
Elkin told Haaretz that he welcomed the decision, and hoped that the threat of sanctions would finally lead to government offices moving.
“This time there are clear schedules. Within 90 days we are dismantling the exceptions committee. Those who do not get an exemption by then will have to move, and we will also impose sanctions on those who do not move. It took four years and three governments, but we passed it,” he said.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion also said that it was a positive step, but noted that the city would need to finish infrastructure improvements so that it does not buckle under the pressure of an influx of workers.
“The government decision passed today is another part of correcting Jerusalem’s status as the capital and governing city of Israel, and it is extremely important,” Lion told Haaretz. “But first, we have more preparatory work to finish, and that’s what we’re doing right now — completing the construction of the light rail, building housing and building offices that the [government] units will be able to move to.”
Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen, who previously served on the Jerusalem municipal council, noted that the decision would not be welcomed by all, but was an important one.
“This is not a simple situation at all to implement. There are many stakeholders who are less than comfortable with it, but it is very important for the future of Jerusalem,” she told Channel 12 news.