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Election 2004

State Senate hopefuls vow to listen, act

Incumbent Mike Fasano and challenger Steve Mattingly both promise to be responsive but vary in their stands on the issues.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
Published October 25, 2004

NEW PORT RICHEY - Their stances differ on education, health care and taxes, but state Sen. Mike Fasano and challenger Steve Mattingly have anchored their campaigns on the same promise:

Constituent service.

Fasano, a Republican from New Port Richey, has a 10-year jump start on his Democratic opponent. After serving eight years in the state House of Representatives, Fasano was elected two years ago to the state Senate seat in District 11, which covers the western portions of Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties and northern Pinellas County.

In that time, Fasano has pushed through bills to create an ombudsman for homeowners with sinkholes, make generic versions of some medications available in Florida and establish a local panel in Pasco County to address complaints about Aloha Utilities.

Unless the courts address it first, Fasano plans to introduce a bill next session blocking local phone companies from raising their rates. The Legislature voted in 2003 to allow the companies to seek higher rates, although Fasano voted against it.

"That's what it's all about," said Fasano, 46, an associate vice president for investments for Morgan Stanley. "It's not just listening to their problems and concerns, but trying to figure out how we can solve them, whether it's through a state agency or contacting the county administrator in one of the four counties we represent."

Mattingly, a retired autoworker making his second run for Senate, has spent much of the past year walking along the U.S. 19 corridor, talking to business owners and workers about their concerns. His central campaign pledge is to hold town hall meetings in each county in the district, take down constituents' concerns and address them with the appropriate agencies.

Mattingly said too many people are being squeezed by rising health care costs and the added layers of regulations on small businesses.

"I'd like to be the champion of senior people and working people and small business people," said Mattingly, 59, who serves as president of the AARP chapter in Spring Hill.

Here's how the candidates compare on some of the issues:

Education

Fasano voted for the governor's A-Plus plan, which uses scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to judge schools' performance and divvy up "recognition" dollars for improving or high-performing schools.

He also led the push this year to rewrite the state funding formula for schools to help fast-growing areas like Pasco County. And he said he wants to set aside more funding for vocational-technical training so students not bound for college can pick up the skills needed for good jobs.

"Let's find them an alternative way to be able to be successful in life," Fasano said.

Mattingly criticized the A-Plus plan, saying it is wrong to put so much pressure on students by tying school funding to test performance.

Mattingly wants to set up "alternative programs" to handle students who are disrupting classrooms. He also wants to require all high school students to take a class in logic, psychology or life skills before graduating.

Health care

Fasano said one of his top priorities is reining in the state's ballooning Medicaid costs. He was a driving force behind a bill two years ago allowing about 3,500 Medicaid patients to get home health care instead of staying at costlier nursing homes. Now he wants to expand that option to all seniors and disabled patients who qualify for Medicaid.

Mattingly said the state faces a "catastrophic" situation with millions of uninsured people. He wants to propose a bill that would prevent people from having to file for bankruptcy over medical debts.

"Most uninsured families are one major illness away from financial disaster," Mattingly said.

Sales tax

Mattingly wants to revisit the hundreds of exemptions to the sales tax, as he said some of them might no longer be appropriate. He wants to cut in half the sales tax collected on cars and manufactured homes to help lower-income people buy those items.

Fasano said he supports revisiting some of the exemptions, although he opposed a state constitutional amendment that would have required a review of all exemptions every 10 years.

He co-sponsored Senate bills to end the sales tax exemption on ostrich feed and skyboxes, which he said are "old, outdated and outrageous," but the House of Representatives never passed a similar bill. He wants to keep sales tax exemptions for doctor's visits and lawn mowing services, among other services, "because they help the consumer."

-- Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is bhall@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 25, 2004, 02:35:37]

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