from The Jerusalem post
By SHARON WROBEL
Kadima presented its socioeconomic vision on Tuesday aimed at generating economic growth, narrowing social gaps and reducing poverty, but refused to commit itself to a budget plan or specific time framework for accomplishing its economic targets.
"To commit to numbers would be irresponsible. We are presenting a systematic approach, which first deals with the root of the problems this country is facing before shifting funds and figures", said Minister of Education Meir Sheetrit at Kadima's headquarters in Petah Tikva.
Tipped to be the next finance minister should Kadima win the upcoming elections, Sheetrit presented the party platform, written and approved by Kadima leader and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The three main goals of Kadima's economic platforms are to stop the spread of poverty, narrow the gap between the rich and poor, and to raise the standard of living, which over the past 30 years has remained low in Israel in comparison with other Western countries.
Kadima proposes to introduce negative income tax payments for people earning up to the minimum wage, until 2008. Kadima's economic policy stresses the urgent need to implement incentives for the unemployed to move them back into the labor force via education reforms including a longer school day and interest-free student loans for university education. Other incentives for working parents include recognition of daycare costs for tax purposes and increasing subsidies for the old and disabled.
"Today we have a problem that there are more incentives not to work than to work. There is a correlation between unemployment and the level of education. The higher the level of education, the more people are employed," Sheetrit said.
Sheetrit added that the more people will get out of the cycle of entitlements and into the labor force, the more money will be freed up that could be used to reduce poverty and generate growth. In addition, Kadima wants to reduce the number of foreign workers in Israel in an effort to raise wages.
Kadima's plan pledges more transparency through compulsory tax reports, which in turn would provide more clarity about the need and allocation of welfare assistance.
"Today you can get benefits from various sources without them knowing from each other. We need to centralize sources of information into one body so the system can not be circumvented," said Sheetrit. One of the measures in Kadima's platform is the unification of tax collection bodies.
Furthermore, Kadima intends to push through a law legitimizing civil marriage as well as civil burials.
As expected, reaction to the platform from the other parties was harsh.
Professor Avishay Braverman, fourth on the Labor list, called the plan "shameful," saying the Olmert-Netanyahu government "hurt education, weakened the condition of our children, and now, a month before the elections, they present an empty platform ... The Olmert government is responsible for the collapse of the middle class."
Likud, meanwhile, said the promises could not be kept and that they "testify to the irresponsibility of Ehud Olmert."
"The way to fix the economy is to pass the 2006 state budget before the election, which the Likud is willing to do but olmert is not," Likud officials said.
Finally, Meretz's Tzvia Greenfeld called the promise of civil marriage a sad joke, considering Olmert's his record of supporting religious interests when he was mayor of Jerusalem.
Sheera Claire Frenkel and Gil Hoffman contributed to this article.
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