By Stacy Garrity
As I travel across Pennsylvania — last year as a candidate, and this year as state Treasurer — I see a state full of promise and hope, and I see people working hard to build their families, communities, and businesses. I also see a lot of challenges.
I ran for office because I have always viewed service to others as the highest calling. That belief has its roots in my childhood and the values that my parents instilled in me and my sisters. When I was young, we visited nursing homes in Bradford County to sing to the residents. Later, I served in the U.S. Army Reserve for three decades before retiring as a colonel.
In the Army Reserve, I served three deployments overseas. At Camp Bucca — named after Ronald Bucca, a New York City fire marshal who died in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 — I was acting Battalion Commander of the internment facility. I’m proud to say that no reports of detainee abuse occurred under my watch.
While serving our country in the military, I had a more than 30-year career in the private sector, working my way up to become one of just two female vice presidents at Global Tungsten & Powders Inc., headquartered in Towanda. I also served as president of the Refractory Metals Association; a member of the Executive Committee for the International Tungsten Industry Association; a board member of the Metal Powder Industries Federation; and a board member for the Munitions Industrial Base Task Force. In those roles, I advocated for America’s industrial base because I believe that our national security depends on strong manufacturing here at home.
I spend a lot of time talking to business owners when I’m on the road. One thing I hear over and over is that they’re watching every penny. I can relate, because I’m doing the same thing in Harrisburg. As Treasurer, my first priority is to be a fiscal watchdog — to protect the billions of taxpayer dollars that flow through the Commonwealth.
One way I’m doing this is by increasing transparency in state spending. Nothing should be done in the shadows. For example, every year state government spends more in certain line items than was appropriated. The accounting tool the state uses to track this over-spending is known as Ledger 5. I’m adding a section to Treasury’s website to shine a bright light on Ledger 5 and to show everyone exactly what’s happening with their taxpayer money.
Business owners also tell me all the time that they need skilled labor. That’s one of my passions, and as Treasurer I’m in a position to help. Many people think of the PA 529 College & Career Savings Program as a way to save for a four-year degree, but it can also be used at community colleges, technical and career schools, and qualified apprenticeship programs. I emphasize that fact every time I talk about the PA 529 program. I recognize that isn’t an instant solution to the problem, but solving the problem will require a sustained, focused effort.
In addition to PA 529, Treasury manages the PA ABLE program, which offers people with disabilities a tax-advantaged way to save without losing their eligibility for important benefits. Funds saved in PA ABLE accounts can be used to pay for anything from groceries and healthcare to long-term purchases, such as modified vehicles or service animals. Since 2017, more than 5,000 Pennsylvanians with disabilities have saved nearly $60 million with PA ABLE.
It’s easy to contribute to Treasury’s savings programs like PA 529 and PA ABLE through automatic payroll deductions. In the future, simple payroll deductions could also help Pennsylvanians be more financially secure in retirement with the proposed Keystone Saves program.
Keystone Saves will be a business-friendly program that gives people who work for employers that don’t offer retirement savings plans the ability to save for the future at their jobs. Employees will be able to choose between conventional and Roth IRA options. Studies have shown that people are 15 times more likely to save for retirement through their workplace – but more than 2 million Pennsylvanians currently don’t have access to such a plan.
Many businesses don’t offer retirement savings plans because federal laws have made it costly, complicated and risky to do so. Keystone Saves will eliminate those problems. And because so many Pennsylvania businesses are struggling due to the effects of the pandemic, a primary focus of the legislation I hope to see introduced in the General Assembly will be to ensure that there are no financial costs to businesses beyond processing the additional payroll deduction.
A study conducted for Treasury by a leading economic analysis firm revealed that financially unprepared seniors will place demands for social services over a 15-year period resulting in almost $15 billion in additional Commonwealth costs. A critical benefit of making it possible for workers to achieve financial independence by saving at their jobs is that it can reduce — or even eliminate — this enormous increase in future demand for public services. Keystone Saves is a win-win-win for businesses, employees and taxpayers.
I should also mention one of my personal favorite programs in Treasury which is unclaimed property. Treasury has more than $4 billion — yes, that’s billion with a “b” — in unclaimed property that I want to get back in the hands of its rightful owners. One in 10 Pennsylvanians has unclaimed property, and the average claim is worth $2,000. Treasury’s vault is also home to military decorations including Purple Hearts, campaign ribbons and medals, pins, patches, dog tags and more. To date, we have returned 412 military decorations — 114 since I took office. As a veteran myself, returning every one of these military decorations is near and dear to my heart.
Finally, I want to mention my #MadeInPAMondays campaign. Every Monday on social media — Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — we highlight the great work of manufacturers and makers across Pennsylvania. Use the hashtag #MadeInPAMondays to engage with the campaign, and let us know if you have suggestions on companies we should feature. Just send an email to PaTreasuryNews@patreasury.gov.
Treasury is an exciting place, and I’m thrilled to work with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and business leaders across the state to make our incredible state even better.
Stacy Garrity is Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.