Joe Torsella challenged for Pennsylvania State Treasurer

Candidates are calling for expanding college savings, more transparency in the state treasury and reducing overall state spending.

(From left) Joe Torsella (D-Incumbent) is being challenged by Stacy Garrity (R), Joe Soloski (L), and Timothy Runkle (G) for the office of Pennsylvania State Treasurer. | CANDIDATES / COURTESY

As North Central voters continue to cast ballots for the 2020 general election, three candidates are currently challenging incumbent Joe Torsella (D) for his office as Pennsylvania treasurer. 

Stacy Garrity (R), Joe Soloski (L) and Timothy Runkle (G) are campaigning on issues like increasing transparency within the state treasury department and reducing overall government spending. The winner of the race will serve a four-year term.

The state treasurer is Pennsylvania’s chief financial officer and manages more than $100 billion in state funding, including all state deposits, withdrawals and investments, according to the state treasurer’s website.

Here is where the candidates stand on issues like transparency within the state treasury and state spending on higher education.

Joe Torsella (D-Incumbent)

Torsella grew up in Berwick, Pennsylvania and was named chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Education in 2008. He went on to be nominated by former President Barack Obama to serve as a United States representative to the United Nations from 2011 to 2014 with the rank of ambassador, according to his website

From 1997 to 2003 he served as the founding president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, according to the Pennsylvania Treasury’s website.

Torsella created Pennsylvania’s Treasury Transparency Portal, which allows Pennsylvanians to see the state’s current fund balance and compare it to historical financial records. 

Like his opponents, Torsella has frequently discussed transparency in the state treasury throughout his re-election campaign, particularly in light of former Pennsylvania Treasurer Robert McCord being sentenced to 2.5 years in prison in August. McCord was convicted of extortion after he attempted to use his office to strong-arm donors during his failed 2014 gubernatorial campaign, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported

After announcing his candidacy in 2015 and winning in 2016, Torsella sought to improve transparency in the department from day one, he said. 

“Restoring transparency, integrity and building accountability to this office have been priorities since day one and they’ll be priorities for me as long as I’m on the job,” Torsella added.

Torsella has worked to make college more affordable in Pennsylvania by creating the Keystone Scholars Program, which enables parents of children born after Dec. 31, 2018 to sign up to have the Pennsylvania Treasury invest $100 in a 529 savings plan to help their child pay for post-secondary education expenses.

“The Keystone program is something that I will be proud of until my last day on Earth,” Torsella said. “I love the fact that we are sending the message to every kid in every ZIP code that they have a future post-high school and that we believe in them even if no one else does.”

Torsella also proposed the Pennsylvania Skills Compact in August, a plan for providing tuition-free training towards associates degrees, according to a press release from the Pennsylvania Treasury.

In regards to health spending, Torsella recently joined other state treasurers in calling for a reduction in the price of Remdesivir, a drug treatment for COVID-19. He has also called on the pharmaceutical companies Mylon and Depomed to help combat the opioid epidemic in the state, according to a press release from the Pennsylvania Treasury.

“We seek to use the office to help Pennsylvanians,” Torsella said. “Part of what I’ve discovered since coming in is by using the power of our shareholdings, I can do an awful lot to prevent Pennsylvanians from getting hurt. So we stood up to the opioid companies that have put their profits ahead of our safety.”

If re-elected, Torsella hopes to build on the work from his first term by continuing to improve accountability within the state treasury department, he said.

“I’m hopeful it can continue to be a place of integrity that made a difference in the lives of Pennsylvanians,” Torsella said.

Stacy Garrity (R)

Prior to her campaign for state treasurer, Garrity was the first female vice president at Global Tungsten and Powders Corporation, a company that supplies resources like metals and semi-finished parts, according to her website

An Army veteran, Garrity was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and believes her experience in the armed forces will help her work in a bipartisan way, she said.

“It doesn’t matter what your political views are or if you agree with the other person, you have to reach across and work with all the soldiers and everyone in your chain of command to accomplish the mission,” Garrity said. “I feel like that would qualify me to reach across the aisle and work with the governor and other legislators.”

If elected, Garrity plans to improve Pennsylvania’s spending transparency and has criticized the state for allowing an “unacceptable” decline in its transparency grade from the non-profit U.S. Private Interest Research Groups, according to her website.

Pennsylvania’s grade declined from a B in 2015 to a C in 2018, according to the nonprofit the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

In regards to higher education, Garrity plans to improve Pennsylvania’s college savings fund by expanding the 529 Tuition Assistance Program, according to her website. She also hopes to improve the state’s system for distributing unemployment insurance.

“I’ve travelled across the state and met many people who are waiting for their unemployment checks,” Garrity said. “I’ve also met people who didn’t apply for unemployment and got multiple checks.”

Joe Soloski (Libertarian)

Soloski has worked in public accounting since 1979 and has managed his own firm in the Pittsburgh area for 27 years, according to his website

Soloski believes the skills he has acquired from working as an accountant and entrepreneur will help him if elected as state treasurer, he said.

“I know what it’s like to work with people and manage a group of employees,” Soloski said. “I’ve prepared a lot of financial statements and I know how to analyze financial statements.”

If elected, Soloski hopes to reduce Pennsylvania’s government spending across the board as well as repeal state inheritance taxes and corporate net income taxes, according to his website.

“Government needs to be run as effectively as possible but hopefully as non intrusive as possible,” Soloski said. “I am definitely for reducing state spending and reducing taxation as those are things that are very important to me.”

One of Soloski’s main goals is to use the office to expand personal liberties for Pennsylvanians, he said. 

Unlike his opponents, Soloski would push for non-traditional issues like term limits for legislators and the expansion of the hemp industry in Pennsylvania if elected, according to his website

Timothy Runkle (Green Party)

Runkle works in the environmental consulting industry as the senior project manager for Leidos, a civil, defense, health and intelligence company. He currently serves as the treasurer of the Green Party of Pennsylvania and co-chairs the Lancaster County Green Party, according to the Green Party of Pennsylvania’s website.

Runkle applauds Torsella’s work to improve transparency within the Pennsylvania Treasury, but feels there needs to be more public engagement regarding the state’s Transparency Portal, he said.

“We need to take it further by bringing in the community and educating them on what the Treasury is doing so they can see the dollar signs and make sense of it,” Runkle said.

If elected, Runkle hopes to use the office to make information about state spending accessible and easy to understand for all Pennsylvanians.

“I want folks to be able to get on that state portal and make sense of what’s happening in the state,” Runkle said. “It’s more than just a checkbook, it’s what we’re doing and who we’re doing it for and the impact it has.”

Runkle also helped develop GreenWave, a committee within the Green Party of Pennsylvania that offers support to local Green Party campaigns, according to its website.

“It’s an unknown avenue to obtain elected office because there’s hardly anyone out there explaining the paperwork, campaign financing, and the other compliance issues of how to do it,” Runkle said.

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