(JNS.org) Israel’s 2015-16 state budget bill passed its first Knesset reading Wednesday, following a marathon session that ended with 57 MKs voting in favor and 53 MKs voting against it.
At 424.8 billion shekels ($108.2 billion), the two-year plan is the largest budget in Israel’s history. It includes NIS 103 billion ($26 billion) to cover government debts, NIS 56 billion ($14 billion) for defense spending, NIS 48 billion ($12 billion) for education, and NIS 29 billion ($7 billion) for health care.
The Knesset’s Economics Committee will prepare the bill for its second and third Knesset readings, scheduled for the coming weeks.
Wednesday’s vote was held as part of a special session called during the Knesset’s summer recess, as Israel has been functioning without a state budget throughout this year because elections were called and the last Knesset was dissolved in December 2014. The elections stopped the 2015 budget discussions in their tracks, and they resumed only in early April, after the current Knesset was sworn in. Throughout this year, government ministries have had to manage with month-to-month budgets.
Under Israeli law, once a coalition is formed, the finance minister needs to present the budget bill within three months, but Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon was granted an extension when the government decided to pursue a biennial budget.
“The Israeli public deserves a change,” Kahlon said Wednesday, Israel Hayom reported. “How many years has it been since we’ve seen a budget that imposes nothing, and expands on education, health, and welfare? My vision includes reducing social gap using more than infrastructure—we’ll narrow these gaps by investing in equal opportunities.”