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Osceola, Volusia voters defeat sales tax for roads issues

Osceola voters said no by a 2-1 margin.

Osceola County voters overwhelming defeated a proposal to increase the sales tax by one cent to provide money for road improvements and transit, and Volusia County voters defeated a smaller tax proposal there, by a closer margin Tuesday.

Osceola voters rejected the proposal in that county by more than a 2-1 margin. The final unofficial total was 26,969 “No” votes and 13,164 “Yes” votes.

In Volusia, a half-cent sales tax to raise money for roads and water projects went down by a 55-45 margin. With all precincts reporting and more than 100,000 votes cast in the mail-ballot election, the “No” votes had an unofficial 10,600-vote lead over “Yes” votes.

The Osceola proposal was put forth by the Osceola County Board of Commissioners in February with the hope of raising $67 million a year to jump-start a long list of backlogged road projects, and to provide money for improvements and expansions of both the Lynx bus system and the SunRail commuter rail system connecting the county with Orlando.

But opponents, chiefly backed by Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa, contended that the penny increase in the sales tax would push Osceola’s rate to 8.5 percent, the highest in Central Florida, a burden that would make it more difficult for businesses to compete and for the county to attract new business.

“It’s overwhelmingly clear the voters of Osceola County expect government to dig deeper and make the tough choices before they are asked for more of their hard-earned money,” La Rosa said Tuesday night.

Osceola County had 40,123 votes cast, for a voter turnout of 18.7 percent.

Proponents, led by former Osceola County Commissioner Atlee Mercer, included a large segment of the Osceola County business community, notably the construction and development sectors, had poured more than $247,000 into a political committee called Fix The Traffic! supporting the initiative. They argued that the county’s growth had left much of the roads far beneath adequate, and that the 30-year tax could overhaul the road system, in addition to providing for bikes, pedestrians, buses, and trains.

But La Rosa’s personal political committee put up $25,000 for the One Penny Too Many committee and the county was peppered with red signs declaring “One Penny Too Many”, and carried the day Tuesday.

“The referendum represented an opportunity for Osceola County voters to weigh in on our transportation infrastructure and future planning efforts,” said Osceola County Commission Chair Cheryl Grieb. “We will discuss the results of the special sales surtax referendum at the next meeting.”

In Volusia County, the half-cent sales tax would have raised the county’s total sales tax to 7 percent. County officials had combined with the 16 cities in Volusia to identify road and water projects to be paid for with about $45 million a year to be raised over 20 years.

That tax was being promoted by a political committee called Volusia Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water, which raised more than $223,000 from businesses.

Weighing in with a secondary victory in the contests was Republican state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, who had pushed legislation to require local tax elections be held on the November general election dates, rather than in mid-year special elections.

“Both of these special elections were intended to take advantage of low voter turnout in order to take money from hard-working taxpayers. However, the electorate spoke loud and clear against this highly unethical practice,” Ingoglia declared in a statement.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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