A year ago, state Rep. Steve Crisafulli was thrust into the top ranks of Florida politics. Lake Mary Republican Chris Dorworth had been in line to become House speaker in 2014 -- but when he lost his re-election bid, the House GOP quickly tapped Crisafulli instead.
First elected in 2008, Crisafulli made his mark as a low-key but purposeful lawmaker and a skilled fundraiser. Before being tapped as speaker-designate, the Merritt Island Republican was heavily involved in redistricting and chaired the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.
Crisafulli is a fourth-generation Brevard County resident and a member of a prominent citrus family. He served as a Brevard County Soil and Water Conservation supervisor from 1998 to 2002 and has a long affiliation with the Brevard County Farm Bureau, including stints as president and director.
Crisafulli graduated from Brevard Community College and the University of Central Florida. He is married with two children. Crisafulli also has a political pedigree: He's a cousin of the late Doyle E. Carlton, who served as governor from 1929 to 1933, and a grandson of the late Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Vassar B. Carlton.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Steve Crisafulli:
Q: You became speaker-designate so unexpectedly -- what has the transition been like?
CRISAFULLI: It's certainly been a big adjustment, especially at first. But I'm honored to have earned the trust of my House colleagues. Most importantly, I'm using this opportunity to serve Floridians and continue the work of getting our state back to work and on the path of prosperity.
But you know, from the standpoint of adjustments to the schedule and the change of having the day job and the new responsibilities of the speaker-designate, it's been something that's been a balance. And obviously, each and every person does it differently, but I've tried to really focus to make sure that I don't forget about the importance and the commitment to my family but knowing also that there's a job to do. And I've been able to find that balance, it seems, over the past year.
Certainly the speaker-designate position is something I'm honored to do. One thing that I dont ever lose focus on is knowing that you have to get re-elected to have that opportunity to take the gavel. So I'm very focused on making sure I don't forget about that very important part of the puzzle. I'm certainly focused on the re-election efforts of myself as well as my House colleagues, and making sure that at the end of the day, we're doing what's right, ultimately, for our state.
(Seems like they just naturally turned to you as a leader.) It did, it happened quickly. There's certainly no question about it. I just tried to continue to work in a way that was reflective of who I am and what I stand for. And I'm honored that our members saw that as somebody who could lead the chamber, but I don't take it for granted and know that there's a great deal of work ahead of us. I certainly look forward to the partnership of the members in the House.
Q: You've pushed to add a cost-benefit analysis to the legislative process. Talk about Florida's space industry -- you worked to get its $10 million budget renewed last session. What's the cost-benefit analysis on that?
CRISAFULLI: I think it's important that when we're laying down appropriations, for example, with Space Florida or somebody like that, it's important for us to know that there's a return on that investment. It's important for us to know that if we're incentivizing businesses, that we're doing it in a way in which they have skin in the game. And if we're putting incentives out there that we know that those incentives don't go into play until, obviously, our partner from the private sector has met the obligations that they've been asked to meet.
From the standpoint, again, using taxpayer dollars, it's important that we're accountable for the use of those dollars. The best scenario I can lay out would be what we do for Visit Florida, for instance. We get to see the return on that investment of the appropriations that are made to draw individuals to our state. And I think, overall, it's a very good return on our investment. As a legislator, using, again, those principles and practices of business, it's important that we can see that to know that if we're appropriating accordingly, then that's good. If we're putting more money into a project or an issue like that and we're not seeing a good return on investment, you need to know that as a legislator before you have that opportunity to push a button for or against an issue.
Q: Water is a special concern of yours -- what do you see as Florida's top water challenges over the next few years?
CRISAFULLI: It's certainly quantity and quality. Obviously, I think, lately the biggest conversation has been on quality. And I think making sure that we look at this in a comprehensive fashion is important, because we can't focus on just one region of the state. It certainly needs to be a comprehensive approach, from Apalachicola to the north end of the lagoon, Kissimmee River, south end of the lagoon, Caloosahatchee -- I mean, there's a lot of issues out there.
And unfortunately, we've had the perfect storm with Mother Nature providing a freeze in 2010 up in the north end of the lagoon that really started the algae blooms as well as a lot of rain at the last rainy season that we've had. And all of that combined has caused, certainly, some issues with quality.
So knowing that we have to be effective -- in not just necessarily a policy area, but knowing that when it comes time to put money out there for projects, these need to be projects that we're funding that have the most bang for their buck. That doesn't necessarily mean cost-benefit analysis, but keeping in mind that return on investment is important from the standpoint of the appropriation for dollars for projects like that. So making sure that we get the most bang for our buck is going to be something that I'm looking at moving forward with regard to funding water projects.
And again, knowing what we can do in a manner that has the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time for the immediate concerns and then moving forward with more of a long-term approach and making sure that we're focused on projects that have a long-term, positive effect for the state would be my goal moving forward.
Q: Do you envision any possibility that you'd support Medicaid expansion as speaker?
CRISAFULLI: No, just being very honest, no, I dont believe expanding Medicaid is the best way to strengthen the safety nets of Floridians -- particularly given the Obama administration's inflexible, all-or-nothing approach to the expansion itself.
I think that last year the House put out a plan that was a good alternative. Obviously, we can look at that again this year. I don't think that just saying no is the answer to anything, but the opportunity to put out an alternate plan is important, and last year Speaker (Will) Weatherford certainly worked that in, and we put a product on the table. Obviously, the Senate didn't agree with us on that issue, but I think if there's an opportunity to tweak that and try to find common ground with our Senate partners, that would be best.
Medicaid is already busting the state budget without the federal expansion. We simply cannot afford a massive expansion. And truthfully, we can't rely on the federal government to live up to its word in funding the program at the end of the day.
So my thought is: No, I couldn't agree to expand Medicaid, but again, laying out an alternative plan like we did in the House last year would certainly be something that I think we'll be looking at again this year. I know Chair (Richard) Corcoran has been working on that product ever since the end of last session, and I'm certain there will be opportunities to look at that again.
Q: Is there any way that the Senate plan that would take federal money but use it in a different way, like the KidCare setup -- is there any way that you would consider that?
CRISAFULLI: No, I don't believe depending on the federal government to fund the program is appropriate for us. Everything about Obamacare has been a disaster, and expanding Medicaid as the federal law allows would be no different. And I think that when it comes to federal funding and knowing that we have an