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Businessmen form political committee to support Osceola's Penny Tax referendum

Businessmen form political committee to support Osceola's Penny Tax referendum
Atlee Mercer, a former Osceola county commissioner and property appraiser, helped organize a political committee to support the May 21 Penny Transportation Tax referendum. (File)

Two well-known Osceola County figures have joined forces to form a political committee in support of the county's proposed penny transportation tax, on the ballot May 21.

"I think everybody in the county feels the pain -- I don't care which district you're from," Hector Lizasuain told GrowthSpotter on Thursday. "You can pick a road pretty much anywhere. Every district has bad traffic problems."

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He knows that thousands of tourists clog the W192 corridor every day. But for him, it's the daily commute from St. Cloud that convinced him to support the sales tax.

"I drive on Neptune Road every single day in St. Cloud. And I sit, and I sit," he said. "And I can guarantee there's not a single tourist driving out there on Neptune Road."

Lizasuain, a former county employee who now works for Magic Development, and former county commissioner and property appraiser Atlee Mercer named the committee "Fix the Traffic!" They're counting on support from Osceola's business community to help win passage of the referendum that would raise the county's sales tax level to 8.5 percent, putting it on par with Hillsborough County, now the state's highest.

The sales tax would generate an estimated $68 million a year in revenue to widen roads, expand intersections, improve traffic control, build sidewalks and trails and support public transportation, including SunRail.

Mercer said he's been speaking to business leaders, trying to get the message across that if the sales tax fails, the county's only other option to raise funds for transportation improvements would be a hike in ad valorum rates. That would disproportionately impact businesses, and it wouldn't capture revenue from visiting tourists, he said.

"This is the only solution, and we have a chance to do it now," Mercer said. "When I talk to businesses, I tell them this will guarantee you will have a solid economy for the next 30 years."

So far, they've only asked for pledges of support. "We have not collected a dime, yet," Mercer said.

Earlier this week Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings floated a possible transportation sales tax increase, saying "it's time" public transit in Orange County had a dedicated public funding source, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story listed the incorrect date of the special election.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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