Gov. Rick Scott's appointment Tuesday of state Rep. Mike Fasano as Pasco County tax collector puts a strong consumer advocate in county government, and many of his fellow Republicans are glad to see him leave the Legislature because he refused to follow the party line. But Fasano's passionate voice for utility ratepayers, the uninsured desperate for health care and homeowners struggling to pay for property insurance will be missed in the state capital.
Fasano, R-New Port Richey, fills the vacancy left by the June 26 death of Mike Olson, who served as Pasco's tax collector since 1981. The customer service aspect of the tax collector's job matches one of Fasano's strongest skills — assistance to constituents. And his frugality on tax matters could prove an immediate benefit to Pasco commissioners who are hoping the tax collector's office will return access fees to help balance the proposed 2014 general fund budget. (Olson had planned to escrow millions of dollars worth of fees to help build new customer service centers.)
Pasco's gain is the state's loss. There will be a void in the Legislature, where Fasano was unafraid to deviate from the scripted Republican talking points that masquerade as public policy debates. As a longtime legislator, Fasano butted heads with Scott and Republican legislative leaders. He promoted the prescription drug database and was the only House Republican who supported expanding Medicaid benefits under the Affordable Care Act. He criticized the nuclear advance recovery fee that enabled Duke Energy to bill customers for billions for nuclear plants that will never produce power even as his Republican colleagues defended the 2005 law and adjusted it. He opposed privatizing prisons, jacking up property insurance rates and creating a new state university in Lakeland.
No wonder House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and other Republican legislators lobbied Scott to appoint Fasano as tax collector even though Fasano has often been a thorn in the governor's side. Yet voters from Pasco and around the state urged Fasano to remain in the Legislature and speak for those whose voices are rarely heard.
Fasano, 55, spent 19 years in Tallahassee as a representative and senator working tirelessly for his constituents on issues ranging from sinkholes to social services. He now takes that same work ethic to the tax collector's office in Pasco County. Tax collectors perform important functions but are rarely seen and heard from even less. Here's hoping Fasano remains in the public arena and continues to speak out for consumers who have one less friend in Tallahassee.