Trea­surer’s elec­tion ar­rives amid tur­bu­lence, deficits

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Marc Levy The As­so­ci­ated Press

Penn­syl­va­nia vot­ers will pick the next state trea­surer to over­see an agency that is play­ing a big­ger role in the state gov­ern­ment’s fi­nances be­cause of per­sis­tent deficits. The Nov. 8 elec­tion also ap­proaches as two of the of­fice’s three most re­cent elected hold­ers have been hit with fed­eral charges.

THE CAN­DI­DATES

Demo­crat Joe Torsella, 52, was a deputy mayor in Philadel­phia un­der then Mayor Ed Ren­dell and went on to be Ren­dell’s ap­pointee to chair the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. Af­ter that, Torsella was CEO of the Na­tional Con­sti­tu­tion Cen­ter in Philadel­phia and a pres­i­den­tial ap­pointee to the U.S. Mis­sion to the United Na­tions. He lives in Mont­gomery County.

Repub­li­can Otto Voit, 58, served with the Army in Desert Storm and worked as an ex­ec­u­tive with Key­stone In­dus­tries, Ed­u­ca­tion and Fun and Soft Sys­tems En­gi­neer­ing, which he helped start. He ran un­suc­cess­fully for Berks County trea­surer be­fore he ran suc­cess­fully for the Muh­len­berg School District board. He lives in Berks County.

Also on the bal­lot are the Green Party’s Kristin Combs and the Lib­er­tar­ian Party’s James Babb.

THE TREA­SURER’S JOB

The trea­surer over­sees the De­part­ment of the Trea­sury, a 360-em­ployee agency that pro­cesses $90 bil­lion in pay­ments ev­ery year to state em­ploy­ees, pen­sion­ers, schools, hos­pi­tals, con­trac­tors and more, and is the cus­to­dian of over $100 bil­lion of pub­lic money, in­clud­ing pen­sion funds. The trea­surer also sits on the boards of Penn­syl­va­nia’s two large pub­lic em­ployee pen­sion agen­cies and has a say in bonds is­sued by the gover­nor’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The post is not nec­es­sar­ily a place for a fi­nan­cial pro­fes­sional, and it can be a spring­board to higher of­fice. The last three elected trea­sur­ers — Bar­bara Hafer, Bob Casey and Rob McCord — each won a sec­ond term and each later ran for higher of­fice.

Trea­sur­ers can carve out their own niche in the pol­icy and pro­grams of the of­fice, such as the pop­u­lar 529 col­lege sav­ings plans that the agency started and man­ages.

In the years af­ter the re­ces­sion, the trea­surer’s of­fice has played a more prom­i­nent role in the state gov­ern­ment’s day-to-day fi­nances, loan­ing money in seven dif­fer­ent agree­ments to keep the state’s deficit-rid­den main bank ac­count from hit­ting $0 dur­ing slug­gish tax col­lec­tion pe­ri­ods.

In March, the trea­surer set prece­dent by al­low­ing pay­ments for prison costs amid a bud­get stale­mate be­tween Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf and law­mak­ers that ex­ceeded the limit set by Wolf in an ear­lier spend­ing bill.

TUR­BU­LENCE AT TREA­SURY

Hafer is fac­ing fed­eral charges in a case that re­volves around the lu­cra­tive con­tracts that the trea­surer awards to in­vest bil­lions of tax­payer dol­lars.

McCord stepped down in 2015 be­fore plead­ing guilty to fed­eral at­tempted ex­tor­tion charges. He ad­mit­ted that he tried to use his po­si­tion as trea­surer to stron­garm state con­trac­tors into do­nat­ing money to his failed gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign in 2014. A Wolf ap­pointee, Ti­mothy Reese, is serv­ing the rest of McCord’s term.

CAN­DI­DATE PLAT­FORMS

Both can­di­dates are pledg­ing to ad­vance var­i­ous trans­parency mea­sures.

For in­stance, Torsella says he would make it eas­ier to see the po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions of state con­trac­tors and push to ban state busi­ness with third-party mar­keters. Voit wants to cre­ate a web­site that would make it easy for the pub­lic to sort through the state’s fi­nances, rev­enues, spend­ing and con­tracts.

A top pri­or­ity of Torsella is to help cre­ate and man­age low-fee in­di­vid­ual re­tire­ment ac­counts with au­to­matic pay­check de­duc­tions for pri­vate sec­tor work­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia who have no work­place re­tire­ment plan. Torsella notes that such pro­grams ex­ist in other states.

Voit is pledg­ing to save tax­pay­ers $1 bil­lion in his first term and will not run for a sec­ond term if he does not.

BILL UHRICH — READ­ING EA­GLE VIA AP

Otto Voit, the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for Penn­syl­va­nia state trea­surer, talks to a re­porter and the ed­i­to­rial board of the Read­ing Ea­gle news­pa­per on in Read­ing, Pa. In the gen­eral elec­tion, Penn­syl­va­nia vot­ers will choose be­tween Repub­li­can Otto Voit and Demo­crat Joe Torsella to serve a four-year term as state trea­surer, an of­fi­cial who over­sees the state Trea­sury De­part­ment, sits on boards of Penn­syl­va­nia’s two large pub­lic em­ployee pen­sion agen­cies and has a say in the state’s bond is­sues.

MEL EVANS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Joe Torsella, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for Penn­syl­va­nia state trea­surer, speaks dur­ing a cam­paign rally with Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton on in Scranton, Pa. In the gen­eral elec­tion, Penn­syl­va­nia vot­ers will choose be­tween Demo­crat Joe Torsella and Repub­li­can Otto Voit to serve a four-year term as state trea­surer, an of­fi­cial who over­sees the state Trea­sury De­part­ment, sits on boards of Penn­syl­va­nia’s two large pub­lic em­ployee pen­sion agen­cies and has a say in the state’s bond is­sues.

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