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An initiative to provide nonpartisan, independent elections journalism for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Voter guide to the Pennsylvania treasurer Democratic primary: Bizzarro v. McClelland

Ryan Bizzarro (left) and Erin McClelland (right) are running for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania treasurer.
Courtesy campaigns
Ryan Bizzarro (left) and Erin McClelland (right) are running for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania treasurer.

What’s at stake? Races for state Treasurer are usually sleepy affairs: The office oversees the receipt and disbursement of tax revenue and other public funds, while administering programs such as the state’s 529 college savings program and overseeing public-employee pension funds. But Democrats would dearly love to beat the Republican incumbent, Stacy Garrity, this fall. Since her 2020 win, Garrity has been a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump and spoke at a rally for those wishing to cast out the result of the presidential race that year. Democrats must first choose a nominee between state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro of Erie and Allegheny County’s Erin McClelland.

Further Reading:
Pennsylvania treasurer candidates spar over unclaimed property issue” (Charlotte Keith, Spotlight PA)
The Job Is Managing State Finances, but His Issues Are Jan. 6 and Abortion” (Trip Gabriel, The New York Times
Democrats vying to unseat State Treasurer Stacy Garrity” (John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star)


Ryan Bizzarro

State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro is a Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania treasurer.
Courtesy Bizzarro campaign
Ryan Bizzarro

Bizzarro has served in the state House for more than a decade and currently serves as the head of the Democrats’ policy committee there. (His own policy interests include animal welfare and funding for cancer treatment.) As a member of party leadership, he says he helped engineer last year’s Democratic takeover of the House, and he says he can win a statewide race against Garrity as well.

Party: Democratic
Place of residence: Erie, Pa.
Education: A.A., Edinboro University of Pennsylvania; B.A., Edinboro University of Pennsylvania; Master of Public Administration degree, Gannon University
Current occupation: State representative
Related experience: Currently: House Majority Leadership, chairman of the House Majority Policy Committee; Previously: Business development, Erie County Convention Center Authority
Supporters/endorsements: Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey; state Sen. Jay Costa; Pittsburgh Controller Rachael Heisler; Allegheny County Controller Corey O'Connor; Former City Controller Michael Lamb; Former U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb; the Allegheny County Democratic State House Delegation; Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council; AFSCME District Council 13; Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council; United Rural Democrats.
Links: Website | Facebook | X | Instagram | Threads
Total fundraising (as of 3/21/24):
Total raised (2024): $148,127 (plus an additional $359,259 from previous campaigns)
Total spent (2024): $77,156

WESA Candidate Survey

Should a state treasurer weigh social or moral concerns when investing funds, or simply focus on the rate of return an investment is expected to make? Under what circumstances, if any, would such concerns guide your investment decisions as treasurer?
How we invest should reflect our responsibilities to the citizens who have contributed that money. Smart investing requires the Treasurer to look beyond the bare facts of returns and to plan for an economically secure future. That means taking a deeper look into good governance practices, taking into account the financial impact of issues like climate change, encouraging emerging industries, and investing in companies that are investing in Pennsylvania, especially communities that have long been neglected.

More specifically, under the current treasurer, the state has invested in bonds issued by Israel, while withdrawing investments in Russia and China — all countries at the center of American foreign-policy debates. Do you support those moves, and are there other international investments of state funds you believe should be withdrawn or expanded?
I was the first elected official to call for disinvestment in Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine. Our investment reflects not just our tolerance for risk but also our values. The invasion was something Pennsylvania does not support and increased the risk of that investment. As Treasurer, I will balance the moral questions with the financial to steer a path that ensures our success.

Previous budget fights between the executive and legislative branches have dragged on for months, requiring the treasurer's office to extend lines of credit to keep government coffers from being drained. What role, if any, do you believe a treasurer should have in those budget debates?
Having a Treasurer with deep legislative experience matters in this kind of situation because the decision on what programs remain funded is legal as well as political. The Treasurer has a duty to fulfill independent of the legislature and understanding how and when to be involved in those discussions can make a deep impact as stalemates are considered.

The treasurer's office administers the state's 529 college savings fund. How would you assess that fund's performance, and what, if anything, would you do to change how the program is administered?
The 529 plan is a wonderful tool for Pennsylvania families to make the most of saving for college, but not enough Pennsylvanians know what it is. I will partner with the Keystone Stars and Head Start Programs to educate families about the program and make sure they take advantage of the $100 available to every child.

What changes would you hope to make to the functioning of the treasurer's office itself, and why?
What’s missing from Treasury is leadership; as Treasurer, I will establish regional offices across the commonwealth to connect Pennsylvanians with programs and team up with legislators to keep information in their district offices so everyone knows what’s available. I will also establish two evergreen investment funds, one focused on investing in small businesses and underserved communities and one on infrastructure investment and partnering with private industry to get our projects done. Treasury is an underused office and for the last three years has just been used to attack our democracy and a woman’s right to choose.


Erin McClelland

Democrat Erin McClelland says she'll run for county executive next year
McClelland campaign
Erin McClelland

McClelland’s name is familiar in Allegheny County, where she has run twice for Congress and once (last year) for Allegheny County Executive. Having worked as a consultant in county government, she stresses the importance of improving government processes, but she says she’s not beholden to party orthodoxy. She opposes, for example, a proposed state-sponsored “Keystone Saves” retirement program for workers whose jobs don’t provide retirement benefits because she says such programs can be prone to fraud.

Party: Democratic
Place of residence: Natrona Heights
Education: B.S., University of Pittsburgh; M.S., Chatham University
Current occupation: Consultant
Related experience: Business owner, behavioral health worker, nine years in process-improvement for county’s Department of Human Services
Supporters/endorsements: Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, Lehigh Valley For All
Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Total fundraising (as of 3/21/24):
Total raised (2024): $5,175 (plus an additional $105,001 from 2023)
Total spent (2024): $9,568

WESA Candidate Survey

Should a state treasurer weigh social or moral concerns when investing funds, or simply focus on the rate of return an investment is expected to make? Under what circumstances, if any, would such concerns guide your investment decisions as treasurer? 
The weight of social, moral, and governance concerns in investments should always play a role when investing the people’s money. This is an increasing trend in investment philosophy to the point that even the CEO of Blackrock has spoken about the importance of considering ESG (Environmental, Sustainability, and Governance) ratings when evaluating the viability of an investment. A Congressional hearing on ESG ratings pointed out that Pfizer looked great on paper, until you considered they were creating an entire generation of people addicted to opiates, resulting in a $784 million settlement. More information always leads to more informed, responsible decision-making — and I’m always for that.

More specifically, under the current treasurer, the state has invested in bonds issued by Israel, while withdrawing investments in Russia and China — all countries at the center of American foreign-policy debates. Do you support those moves, and are there other international investments of state funds you believe should be withdrawn or expanded?
Our teachers’ pensions represent 43% of the $163 billion managed by the State Treasurer. Investing pension and other taxpayer-funded money into foreign holdings to make a political statement is a phenomenon with which I strongly disagree. The nation-wide labor strikes in Israel, the downgrade of their credit along with 5 of their banks, as well as the choice to insure this debt with credit default swaps, further demonstrates their bonds are not an appropriate investment for state funds. On the other hand, hyperbolic politically charged statements of “total divestment” are egregious considering that securities are often layered with multiple investments that can include foreign bonds.

Previous budget fights between the executive and legislative branches have dragged on for months, requiring the treasurer's office to extend lines of credit to keep government coffers from being drained. What role, if any, do you believe a treasurer should have in those budget debates?
The consistent failure to pass a [state] budget puts the Treasurer in the place of choosing to fund public programs with lines of credit or withhold the funding. This passes the buck of the problem onto the row offices, instead of placing accountability on the very elected officials who are charged with the budget. As Treasurer, I plan to make it known how I intend to deal with this problem in advance of each budget deadline, holding our elected officials responsible for their duties.

The treasurer's office administers the state's 529 college savings fund. How would you assess that fund's performance, and what, if anything, would you do to change how the program is administered?
It would be politically disingenuous to suggest that the 529 accounts are not performing well, having been elevated to one of only 2 gold level such programs in the country. Encouraging utility is ideally what we need to do next. And thanks to many of the reforms in the Biden administration, those who invest in these accounts but choose not to go to college, now have other options for rolling over their investment. Concerns for many working families about the rising costs of education may cause some to be cautious about using the program.

What changes would you hope to make to the functioning of the treasurer's office itself, and why?
As someone who relishes process improvement in government, I look forward to evaluating all the functionality of the office and where we can solve problems, eliminate errors, and improve response times. I also have chosen to take on the issue of cyber-security for our more than 2500 municipal governments. Hacks in Aliquippa, Washington County, and Chester have resulted in extensive losses. We must establish a shared-learning process, an alert system and constant training if we are to ensure these small communities are protected. Finally, exploring the recent trend of public banks is an idea worth exploring and is proving viable in other states.

Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.