Nobel Prize Laureate S.Y. Agnon, who is well-known for his sarcastic comments, used to say that when he saw someone running somewhere, he knew it was not to perform a mitzva. Last Wednesday, when the local media received repeated invitations from the City Hall spokesman to attend a special press conference in the presence of Mayor Uri Lupolianski about next year's budget, it was clear that the number of good deeds performed by our elected officials wouldn't be under discussion. But an invitation is an invitation, even when it comes from political sources. The press conference began like any other at Kikar Safra - late, with the new director-general, Yair Ma'ayani, arriving an hour and a half later than Lupolianski. The fact that the budget book (usually two and sometimes even three books) wasn't ready didn't seem to bother anyone. Instead, the spokesman's staff had prepared a collection of budget highlights and a few general statements on next year's goals. Next year's projected budget is NIS 3.173 billion, NIS 45 million more than this year. No wonder, then, that after all the speeches - from Lupolianski, deputy mayor and finance committee head Eli Simhayoff, municipal treasurer Eli Zituk and Ma'ayan - there were only two questions. After all, even a journalist is hard pressed to ask a clever question when s/he hasn't had a chance to review the subject material. Lupolianski began the meeting with the declaration that "This is not going to be an election year budget." And you know what? He's right. The 2008 budget has no reference, not even a hint, to the elections. Instead, it outlines nothing but the strict needs of this city and its residents - as conceived by Lupolianski, of course. For example, when asked why, even after the additional funding for cultural institutions - a blessing in itself, one must admit - Jerusalem's cultural events have only been allocated NIS 10m., while in Tel Aviv, which has less than half the capital's population, cultural events are allotted NIS 90m., Lupolianski gave an astonishing answer: "Tel Aviv spends lots of money on elitist cultural venues, while we believe that Jerusalem should be more popular. We think that popular culture is more appropriate for Jerusalem." Lest someone misinterpret the mayor's words, here is an explanation: NIS 10m. is considered enough to allow the few cultural institutions that are still in existence to give us some popular cultural events. Now let's try to imagine what that might mean: A local competition of flute players? Or perhaps a fashion parade in one of the local community centers? Or maybe a competition of children's drawings to be shown on Channel 10's The Weather Report with Danny Rupp? On the other hand, one can easily imagine what an elitist cultural department in Tel Aviv could achieve with an NIS 90m. budget. An opera house, for example, with productions that attract even aficionados from abroad. Or a philharmonic orchestra, which unlike Jerusalem's struggling orchestras, is able to develop more programs. Can it be that for the city that is not only the capital of the State of Israel, but also the most important city for Jews in the world, let alone other faiths, the municipality only seems to be interested in popular culture? Am I missing something here?

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