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Imagine what $45 million could have achieved

As far as job programs go, this one hardly can be considered cost-effective.

The price tag• At least $45 million. It resulted in one person landing a new job.

I know. Doesn’t seem like an optimum return for the money, does it?

Tom Corbett and Dan Onorato collectively raised approximately $45 million in their respective campaigns for governor that mercifully concluded Tuesday. The exact amount, which some pundits expect will be even higher, won’t be known until post-election campaign finance reports are filed.

The candidates expended those millions on TV and radio commercials, direct mail advertising, yard signs, internal polling, incessant robocalls and countless Subway sandwich platters purchased for hard-working campaign volunteers.

Was it money well spent?

In the election’s immediate afterglow, the governor-elect probably would insist that it was. (Although that steadfast conviction might waver in January, when he assumes stewardship of a state with a projected budget deficit that some analysts believe could top $5 billion next year.)

But most people probably would look at the staggering sum it just cost to elect outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell’s successor through a prism of relative normalcy.

Most people probably would conclude that $45 million was an excessive amount to spend on what charitably could be labeled as one of the more pedestrian exercises in recent Pennsylvania politics.

That conclusion can be substantially reinforced by considering how profound the effects could have been had the people who ponied up for Corbett and Onorato pooled their money for other purposes.

No, their combined largess wouldn’t have been enough to cover the full year’s $14,076 tuition for the entire University of Pittsburgh freshman class. But $45 million would have given 3,196 of Pitt’s 3,796 freshman a free ride this year.

Say the city of Pittsburgh had been the beneficiary of the donors’ generosity. With an extra $45 million, the city could cover an annual minimum payment to its much-maligned and ridiculously underfunded pension program that the state appears on the verge of taking over.

Or the money could have been used to resurface about 150 miles of streets, or about the total number of miles the city has resurfaced since 2007.

What if those jockeying for membership in the new gov’s club had given their money directly to the cash-strapped state• They could have kept Auditor General Jack Wagner’s 615-member office running for an entire year and still had about $700,000 left over for chips and soft drinks.

That’s a lot of Doritos and root beer.

Don’t despair if the cost of this job program strikes you as enormously disproportionate to its results. Take some comfort in the fact that $45 million figure likely won’t be surpassed in a Pennsylvania political race for years.

I’m guessing 2014, when the incoming governor undoubtedly will run for re-election. By then, the price of those Subway sandwich platters almost certainly will have risen.


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