A conversation with State Treasurer Stacy Garrity

Recently, PoliticsPA sat down for conversations with the candidates for Pennsylvania State Treasurer – incumbent Republican Stacy Garrity and Democratic challenger Erin McClelland.

A graduate of Sayre High School in Bradford County, Garrity earned a degree in finance and economics from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and later received a certificate from the Cornell University Business Management Institute.

She served in the U.S. Army and was deployed three times before reaching the mandatory retirement age in 2016.

Garrity ran for public office in 2020 and defeated Democrat Joe Torsella – the first time since 1994 that a Republican beat an incumbent Democratic statewide officeholder – despite being outspent 8-to-1.

She spoke to PoliticsPA about her record over the last three and one-half years.

Responses may be shortened due to length and for clarity.

One of the great unknowns for people around the Commonwealth is what exactly the State Treasurer does. What is the position responsible for?

Garrity: I agree that most people don’t know what the state treasurer does. First and foremost, I am the fiscal watchdog for the Commonwealth’s assets, which are over $150 billion, and of that we directly invest about $50 billion. I sit on 17 boards and commissions and the biggest ones are SERS (the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System), PSERS (Public School Employees Retirement System) and PMERS (Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System). I also manage our consumer programs and always talk about unclaimed property – the $4.5 billion that does not belong to the state.

I run the PA 529 college and career savings plan, which is doing fantastic, and just got upgraded to gold by Morningstar in November, which makes us one of two gold plans in the entire nation. We’re so incredibly proud about that. I also run PA ABLE, which stands for achieving a better life experience, and that’s for our folks with disabilities and our assets have tripled over the last three years.

You spend time in the military before joining the private sector. Tell me about your experience in the Army.

I spent 30 years in the U.S. Army Reserves. I am an MP – military police – and I had three deployments, all to the Middle East. The first one was Desert Storm in 1991, then Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and finally Operation Enduring Freedom in 2008-09. During the last deployment, I was acting battalion commander at Camp Bucha in southern Iraq with 1,200 soldiers under my command who managed about 7,000 detainees.

Our mission was to provide care and custody with dignity and respect. I have to say that we were the first internment facility in the theater that had zero abuse allegations and zero escape attempts. If I had not hit the mandatory retirement date in 2016, I absolutely would never have run for political office because serving our country was and is the honor of my lifetime.

What would say are your top accomplishments during your term?

First thing I would point out is unclaimed property. Just this past fiscal year, we gave back about $274 million – the highest number ever returned in a single year from the Treasury. I’ve returned 413 military decorations, including ten Purple Hearts and three Bronze Stars. We get those from the vault which, fun fact, is the largest working vault in the nation. We get them largely from abandoned safe deposit boxes. And being a veteran myself, it’s really important to me to get these medals back to the veterans that earn them, or their families, so that we can show how much we appreciate their service to the nation and their sacrifice.

With PA 529, we hit the gold record and have about $7.5 billion of assets under management. We’ve had several fee cuts, and at the end of this fiscal year, will have saved $11.5 million back into the pockets of hard-working parents or grandparents that have accounts with us.

PA ABLE is a relatively new program, about seven years old, and is part of a nineteen-state ABLE alliance. Our state has 25 percent of the assets under management and just crossed a new milestone of $120 million.

We’re beginning to see an ever-growing presence in women in state office. As the fifth woman to ever serve as State Treasurer in PA, why do you think it has taken so long? Why is it happening now and why is it a good thing?

I don’t know why it has taken so long, but I know that the number of women in the General Assembly continues to increase, as has women running for judicial office. I think women tend to be a bit more results-oriented. That’s not to say that the men I work with are not. I think that the trend we’re going to see more and more, women running for office.

You’ve been criticized for your response to the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and increasing the investment by the Commonwealth into Israeli bonds. Can you tell me what the thought process was behind that?

After the horrific slaughter of 1,200 innocent Israelis on October 7, Israel bonds contacted me and we immediately invested another $20 million. To be clear, we’ve been invested in Israeli bonds since the 1990s, so treasurers from both sides of the aisle have found that these are a great investment. They have never defaulted and paid an above-average return. Put simply, I think that a democracy should stand with other democracies and that we should support our greatest ally in the Middle East.

Hamas, their agenda since 1948 has been the total eradication of Israel and the Jewish people. Put very simply, if Hamas stopped fighting, there would be no more war. If Israel stopped fighting, there would be no more Israel.

As watchdog, your job is to make sure that every expenditure coming from the General Assembly is constitutionally legal and correct?

If we see a payment and we’re not sure (about its legality), we always reach out and ask questions. I have a fiscal review department and we review every single payment that we make, which, fun fact, is three payments a second.

What separates you from your opponent in the general election – Erin McClelland?

What separates me is that I have an actual record. When I was elected, it was a big upset. In preparation for the swearing-in ceremony, I reached out to the former Treasurer, Joe Torsella, and asked him to speak. He said, ‘Oh Stacy, we don’t do that in Harrisburg.’ And I said, well, maybe we should. And I explained that I wanted to do a change-of-command ceremony and want to give you the opportunity to thank your staff and talk about what you were most proud of.

He said he’d think about it, but added ‘You’re going to be under a lot of pressure to change your mind.’ I said Joe, you don’t know me very well. I won’t be changing my mind. He did end up speaking and it was wonderful. I then asked Gov. Wolf to put him back on the PSERS pension board because he was definitely a champion for reform on that board. Also, I kept his staff. I told legislators that I ran a battalion in a war zone with 1,200 soldiers under my command. I think I can pick a staff and, so, half of my senior staff is from the other side of the aisle. One of the reasons we’ve been able to break all these record is because I kept the highly qualified people that were there.

You’ve been an unabashed support of former President Donald Trump. Your thoughts on the New York City verdict?

I think the real verdict is going to be on November 5 when folks go to the ballot box.

You’ve also been a critic of Roe v. Wade and support the Dobbs decision. Do you think that presents any problems moving forward in the general election with women around the Commonwealth?

Abortion has nothing to do with the role of State Treasurer. I supported it going back to the states and absolutely do not support a national ban. And I have to tell you, I am a fervent supporter of women’s reproductive rights. I have never, ever shared this story, but you know, I’m not blessed to have children. I tried IVF procedure several times with my husband, so I am absolutely supportive of reproductive rights.

Have you thought about your political future after State Treasurer?

We know I wasn’t supposed to be here now. Every day, I wake up and feel so blessed to be able to serve the people of Pennsylvania. I am really laser-focused on this election and continue to be the best Treasurer that I can for all our great hard-working people.

Next week: a conversation with Erin McClelland.

Steve Ulrich is the managing editor of PoliticsPA.

This article was originally published in PoliticsPA.

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