Florida's House District 36 covers West Pasco from the coast to Little Road, including much of Mike Fasano's current Senate district. Term-limited in the Senate, Fasano seeks a return to the House, but must get past attorney James Mathieu, who has the support of the county's Republican Executive Committee. A third candidate, Hudson business owner Michael Kennedy, did not respond to a questionnaire from The Pasco Tribune.
No Democrat is running in House District 36, so the primary winner on Aug. 14 will take the seat.
Do you agree with Gov. Rick Scott's decision not to expand Medicaid and not to create health insurance exchanges in Florida? If so, how do you propose to improve health coverage for Florida's 3.8 million uninsured residents?
FASANO: I do not support the Affordable Care Act. I am disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to uphold the bulk of the law. That said, it is important that the Florida Legislature address the issue of uninsured Floridians. We can't just sit back and throw bombs at the issue without doing something to address the core problem. I am willing to listen and learn more about the impact of the decision not to expand Medicaid.
In the long run taxpayers pay more for emergency room visits than primary care. I have long advocated for, and helped secure funding for, community health programs. It is my belief that if each of Florida's 67 counties had a community health center to serve the uninsured and the underinsured the burden on Medicaid, and taxpayers in general, would be greatly reduced.
MATHIEU: I agree with the decision. The state of Florida cannot afford such an expansion of the Medicaid program. I am against the federal government dictating to Florida what benefits must be provided. This would greatly increase the budget for Florida at a time when money is tight. We are one of just a handful of states in the country without a personal income tax and it needs to stay that way to attract growth and business.
Unlike the federal government we need to balance our budget. The promise from the federal government to initially pick up some of the expense is only for a few years. We all know what will happen then. We need to help our citizens get jobs and also make health insurance more affordable and this is the way to help those who are uninsured. We just can't afford this type of help from the federal government.
What do you think needs to be done to "fix" Citizens Insurance?
FASANO: A complex problem does not engender an easy solution. For years we have heard the refrain that if we allow the insurance market to become more competitive, more insurers will come into our state and begin writing policies. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to make Florida more business friendly, the homeowners' insurance market has not responded. I support taking decisive action to force the private market to write more homeowners' policies. For example, if an insurance company writes auto policies and homeowners in another state, they must offer both lines in Florida or they will not be able to write either.
Citizens, no longer the insurer of last resort that it was created to be, must remember that actual people pay the premiums and live in the homes that it insures. These people have real life concerns and struggles that are directly impacted by the insurance bill that arrives in the mail each year. Many have mortgage holders that require coverage, no matter the cost. Instead of responding to its own problems with strictly bottom line-centric answers, Citizens needs to ask itself and its policyholders the simple question: "What can they realistically afford?" As any successful business operator knows, once you lose sight of your market, you eventually lose your business.
Perhaps the best solution would be to split off the perils that Citizens covers. Ideally, if we could create a national windstorm pool, the cost of this coverage would be spread out across all states. Since there is no movement in Washington in this direction, the next ideal option would be to create a regional windstorm pool so Florida and neighboring states could share the burden. Again, this seems unlikely to happen any time soon. The third option would be the creation of a statewide windstorm pool. If one entity was solely responsible for this coverage, the remaining perils that Citizens now covers (i.e. fire, theft, etc.) would be snapped up by the private market. This would not only bolster the health of private insurers, it would narrow Citizens' role to one, albeit major, peril.
MATHIEU: An exit strategy for Citizens needs to be developed. Once Citizens, through the state Legislature, morphed the JUA into a state-run insurance company, competing in the private market place, the damage was done. This must be reversed. We will never be able to attract insurance business and competition to a state where the competition is the state itself.
The state Legislature started Citizens and owns it. The responsibility is the state Legislature's. We must stop pointing a finger at Citizens and either fix it permanently or abolish it. Our present sitting elected officials now point at Citizens and say they are the problem when they need to point the finger at themselves. The state Legislature created Citizens and has the ability to regulate it in any fashion if they have the political will to so. It will take political courage to fix Citizens.
Are there any divisions of state government that should be privatized or outsourced? If so, which one(s)?
FASANO: It is possible that some aspects of state government could be privatized. However, Florida's chief financial officer Jeff Atwater has recently reported that there are literally billions of dollars in contracts between the state and private entities. There appears to be very little oversight regarding the existing contracts. Until the CFO has completed a complete audit of these contracts it is premature to even consider expanding outsourcing further.
MATHIEU: At this point in time I cannot target any division of state government that should be privatized. I am not opposed to privatization if it saves money and is in an area that is appropriate. Nonpolicy-making governmental function. Any privatization must be sensitive to those currently employed.
Do you support the expansion of casino gambling in Florida?
FASANO: I would support the expansion of gaming in Florida only at existing licensed pari-mutuel facilities.
MATHIEU: I believe that the issue of any expansion of casino gambling should go to a referendum of the voters with a local option. Some issues of a statewide importance need to be voted on by referendum. The local option, if the voters so decide, would leave the decision of casino gambling to the local government. Personally, I support the expansion if the voters so choose.
As state funding for higher education is reduced, colleges and universities are raising tuition, placing a greater burden on parents and students. What, if anything, should the state Legislature be doing to keep college affordable?
FASANO: Keeping college affordable should be a top priority of the Legislature. One thing the Legislature should not have done was create a 12th university this year. I vehemently opposed Senator Alexander's move to immediately split Polytech from the University of South Florida. This new school will be an instant drain on already strained higher education resources. It is my hope that a future Legislature will revisit this ill-conceived move and put the new school on hold until the budget can sustain the costs.
I support students attending community colleges for the first two years as an inexpensive alternative to spending all four years in a university. Not only is the community college system more affordable for students, the amount of long-term student loan debt they will incur will be greatly reduced.
I also believe that not everyone needs or may want to go down the traditional four-year college road. I encourage vocational schools for those who may desire to learn a trade or become trained in specialty professions such as cosmetology, auto mechanics or certified nursing. The Legislature should provide incentives or assistance for those who prefer to follow a path that will help them learn the skills they need to perform the jobs they desire to hold.
MATHIEU: More emphasis should be made on the quality of the education and programs offered, not the further use of funds for capital ventures such as more buildings and campuses. We need investment in people and programs not bricks. As president of a nonprofit charter school, which operates on almost one-third less funding than public school, I can say with certainty that more money is not the answer. We need accountability from our colleges and local control if possible.
Should teacher evaluations and merit pay be based on how well students perform on standardized tests?
FASANO: At one time I supported the concept of directly tying teacher pay to student results on standardized tests. After visiting with many teachers, parents and public and private school administrators over the past several years I have come to understand that this is not the way to calculate teacher pay.
Each school is different. Socio-economic factors in any given community or school are beyond a teacher's control. Too many children live without three square meals a day or parental support at home. These factors impact a student's academic performance.
Students with unique challenges are taught by teachers just as dedicated as teachers whose students do not face those same challenges. Those teachers should not be penalized because their students may not be able to pass a standardized test.
MATHIEU: Teacher evaluations and merit pay should not be based on student performance tests. Each teacher must accept the students placed into their class. The teacher has no control over this. How a student performs can be a function of many factors, which can include the teacher's ability, but not necessarily. Teacher performance needs to be evaluated constantly and supervised by the principal. Local control and accountability is paramount.