Torsella for treasurer: His breadth of public service gives the edge
October 26, 2016 12:00 AM
The next treasurer of Pennsylvania will have a full plate. In addition to the regular duties — safeguarding about $100 billion in public assets — the treasurer will have to rebuild public trust in an office tainted by corruption, weigh in on pressing matters such as pension reform and consider how to expand the treasury’s impact on Pennsylvanians.
Both major-party candidates in the Nov. 8 election, Republican Otto Voit and Democrat Joe Torsella, are well-versed in fiscal management. Both have good ideas and impressive records of public service. However, Mr. Torsella has broader, more practical experience, and he receives our endorsement.
The last elected treasurer, Rob McCord, resigned last year, before pleading guilty to federal charges that he attempted to extort campaign contributions for a failed gubernatorial bid. Since June 2015, the office has been held by Timothy A. Reese, who was nominated by Gov. Tom Wolf and confirmed by the Senate. Mr. Reese chose not to run for his own term.
Mr. Voit of Berks County is an Army veteran of the Persian Gulf War who has held numerous finance-related posts in the private sector, including 19 years as president of Keystone Dental Group, a provider of oral health care products and equipment. He is vice president of the Muhlenberg School Board, treasurer of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and a member of PSBA-related financial boards — posts that have acquainted him with thorny issues such as pension liabilities, inequities in education funding and unfunded mandates from the state.
Mr. Torsella, a Montgomery County resident, was Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for policy and planning from 1992 to 1993, working with then-Mayor Ed Rendell to address the city’s fiscal crisis. Later, as governor, Mr. Rendell appointed Mr. Torsella chairman of the state Board of Education. In 1997, Mr. Torsella took over the struggling National Constitution Center, stabilized its finances, opened it in 2003 and returned for a second stint as CEO from 2006 to 2009. From 2011 to 2014, he was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for management and reform, a position in which he pushed the body toward increased transparency and fiscal responsibility.
Both candidates see the need to boost public confidence in the office and say they would do so by putting additional financial information online and by following other states in reducing investments in hedge funds often criticized for their fees and investment returns. They would put a greater emphasis on so-called passive investing with lower fees, fewer trades and longer-term outlook.
Mr. Voit has said he won’t accept contributions from those doing business with the treasury. Mr. Torsella’s campaign didn’t make such a blanket statement but noted that federal law restricts contributions from investment fund employees. He said he lists all of his contributors, along with their occupations and employers, on his website. If elected, he said, he will create a searchable database making it possible to determine which state vendors are giving money to which candidates.
Mr. Voit has said he has no use for third-party investment marketers, or middlemen, while Mr. Torsella has advocated banning them and criticized his opponent for not adopting the same language. Mr. Torsella also promised to hire a chief integrity officer for the treasury and to require those who make the state’s investments to disclose their own market activity. These are excellent ideas that can prevent corruption from taking root in the treasury, always at risk because of the money to be made with taxpayer money and at taxpayer expense.
The candidates share a ddesire to expand the office’s influence from nuts-and-bolts financial issues to other matters of public importance, such as family savings, college affordability, economic development an general government accountability. A stepped-up role is a laudable idea.
Mr. Voit casts himself as a political outsider whose blend of private-sector and school board experience would enable him to bring a no-nonsense, results-oriented focus to the treasury. At this juncture, the office might well benefit from some military-style discipline.
However, Mr. Torsella also brings diverse experiences — as well as a deeper knowledge of government and a record of having pushed multiple bureaucracies toward improved performance. This practical experience will serve voters well, and they should elect Joe Torsella on Nov. 8.