When Stacy Garrity took the oath of office in January, it marked the first time Pennsylvania had a Republican Treasurer since 2003. And with the election of Auditor General Tim DeFoor, it’s the first time the GOP has held both offices since 1961.
“To say it was an unexpected win is an understatement,” said Garrity after a recent event with the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry at the Desmond Hotel in East Whiteland Township.
Asked about working with Gov. Tom Wolf and his Democratic administration, Garrity said she has not seen Wolf since she’s been in Harrisburg but he did call to congratulate her when she bested Democratic incumbent Joseph Torsella. She has, however, interacted with the people in the departments of Labor and Industry and Agriculture and the governor’s budget office, who have “all been very nice to deal with.”
But if she runs into any bureaucratic infighting, Garrity’s military background has prepared her.
“As a (former) colonel in the Army Reserve, I found that people from all walks of life, backgrounds, experiences and expertise can come together and unite behind a common cause, our mission,” she said. “Having worked with different specialties, different branches of the military, and different countries, I know that we can all work together given the opportunity to do so, provided there’s a foundation of mutual trust and respect, guided by sound, principled leadership.”
Garrity, 56, served in Iraq where she was an officer in charge of an internment camp for captured enemy soldiers. While other camps were fraught with prisoner abuse scandals, her record was unblemished and the Iraqis called her “the Angel of the Desert.” Before being elected state treasurer, she was vice president with Global Tungsten & Powders Corp. Garrity, who holds a degree in finance and economics from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, lives with her husband Daniel Gizzi in Bradford County, She spends three or four days a week in Harrisburg running the 294-person department.
Garrity says she’s keeping a campaign promise to make the state Treasury Department more transparent with the open checkbook program that posts all payments online. She hopes other state agencies will follow suit. She’s also asking the legislature to pass a bill to create the Keystone Saves program.
“There’s over two million Pennsylvanians who don’t have enough retirement savings or any emergency savings,” Garrity said. “Between now and 2030 we’re going to be hit with $14.5 billion in increased social services costs and $1.4 billion in reduced taxes from less consumer spending… With Pennsylvania’s aging population, it’s going to hit us like a tsunami.”
If enacted, the Keystone Saves plan would allow employers to offer a payroll deduction for a savings account for their employees that would be administered by the state Treasury Department, similar to the 529 college savings plan.
“We know that folks are fifteen times more likely to have a retirement account if their employer offers it,” she said. “It’s 100 percent business-friendly. All the employer would have to do is offer the payroll deduction.” Keystone Saves has the support of the Pew Foundation, AARP, and BNY Mellon.
“Stacy Garrity, in just five months as Pennsylvania’s new Treasurer, has shown that she is both knowledgeable and focused on transparency and engagement—meeting with our members by Zoom and in person.” said Guy Ciarrocchi, president and CEO of the Chester County Chamber. “Plus, she has already set up several ways to allow citizens to track how tax dollars are spent.”
Asked to comment about the troubled $64 billion Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS), Garrity said she could not say much because a federal investigation is underway. PSERS is also undertaking an internal investigation and hired the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson to find out what happened, said Garrity, who, as treasurer, sits on the 15-member board.
“They’re invested in a lot of private equity and a lot of times private equity has very high interest and fees,” she said. “When you look at their returns for 2020 it’s only 1.11 percent. I think people are obviously concerned about triggering of the shared risk which are obviously nobody wants any sort of fees to increase for teachers, but what I’m more concerned about is the overall performance of the fund itself.”
More broadly, Garrity is concerned with both the Pennsylvania and U.S. economies in the wake of the pandemic.
“In Pennsylvania we have 1.1 million small businesses that compose 99.6 percent of all businesses here,” she said. “When the governor instituted his arbitrary shutdowns, it really disproportionately impacted our small businesses.”
But things are opening up since more people have gotten vaccinated and we are “starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
She hears business owners complain that they can’t get enough employees.
“Right now for small businesses, they’re all challenged to find workers,” said Garrity. “I travel the state and you can see that in every county and it’s largely because some people make more money to not come to work.”
And if Democrats turn around and impose a $15 an hour minimum wage, that could be another blow.
“I’m for a living wage, a fair wage,” she said. But especially businesses in the rural counties could not pay $15 an hour and survive, she said, calling it “a burden.”
And as for the trillions the Biden administration is spending, she fears it will be paid for by future generations. Only 7 percent of the $2 trillion Biden infrastructure program would go to infrastructure, she said. Most of it is a “very left-wing agenda.”
One of Garrity’s favorite Treasury programs is Unclaimed Property.
When talking to members of the Chester Chamber she told them to look themselves up because there is $10.5 million of unclaimed money in the Treasury Department for them. For Bucks County, there is $110 million. Montgomery County residents could collect $221.7 million, and Delaware County residents have $145.2 million in unclaimed funds. And Philadelphia residents have a whopping $623.8 million being held by the treasury.
Last year, when she was running for office, Garrity found she was owed $1,500, while the average claim is $2,000. One in 10 Pennsylvanians have unclaimed property.