Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is set to notch another victory in his long-running battle with Disney. On Monday, the Florida legislature introduced a bill that would give the governor control over the five-member Reedy Creek Improvement District board.
Why is that a big deal? As explained by the Daily Mail:
Reedy Creek, which granted sweeping benefits to Disney over the last half century due to the special designation, is governed by five board members elected by local property owners.
Considering most of the land within the special district is owned by Disney and its affiliates, the company is given an unbalanced amount of power over how the area is run and essentially allowed Walt Disney Co. to operate as a form of government.
The move was first signaled by DeSantis last spring following public sparring between the governor’s office and the company over the Parental Rights in Education Bill. As Kira Davis noted at the time:
On Thursday, Governor Ron DeSantis floated the idea of drafting a law to revoke Disney’s preferred tax status in the state.
To summarize, The Reedy Creek Improvement Act of 1967 created a special municipality for the 25,000 acres of land Disney purchased to erect their theme park. They’ve enjoyed a preferred tax status and “self-rule” ever since.
In 1967 the Florida State legislature, working with Walt Disney World Company, created a special taxing district – called the Reedy Creek Improvement District – that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.
Walt Disney World could then move ahead with its vision to turn 38.5 square miles of largely uninhabited pasture and swamp land, into a global destination resort that welcomes millions of visitors every year.
Despite the well-publicized tensions between the governor and the entertainment behemoth, DeSantis maintains this is not about retaliation, but rather about reining in the outsized influence of a private corporation over the government.
Now, with the introduction of the bill, Florida appears poised to limit some of the special allowances afforded Disney for the past 50 years. The move would effectively remove Disney’s self-governance, ensuring that board members appointed by the governor and approved by the state senate not be tied to the theme park, and renaming the district the “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.”
The governor’s office issued a statement in conjunction with the bill’s introduction, highlighting “a new era of accountability and transparency”:
In 1967, the Florida Legislature created the Reedy Creek Improvement District (the District), which gifted extraordinary special privileges to a single corporation. Until Governor DeSantis acted, the Walt Disney Company maintained sole control over the District. This power amounted to an unaccountable corporate kingdom.
Florida is dissolving the Corporate Kingdom and beginning a new era of accountability and transparency, by:
- Permanently eliminates Disney’s self-governing status.
- Imposes a state-controlled, term-limited board – with members appointed by the governor – on Disney and its property.
- Allows the state to impose taxes on Disney for possible road projects outside of the District’s boundaries.
- Ensures that Disney pays the $700+ million in unsecured debt – not Florida taxpayers.
- Provides no control of the district to the leftist local government in Orange County, which threatened to leverage the situation to raise local taxes.
- Imposes Florida law so that Disney is no longer given preferential treatment.
- Prevents Disney from gaining more land by eminent domain.
- Creates an avenue to compel Disney to contribute to local infrastructure.
These actions ensure a state-controlled district accountable to the people instead of a corporate-controlled kingdom.
The statement also outlined the advantages Disney has enjoyed for the past half-century:
In contrast, some of the now-revoked powers that were formerly granted to the Walt Disney Company included:
- Full self-governing status with a Disney-selected board.
- The ability to build airports and nuclear facilities.
- Acquisition of property beyond the District’s territory by condemnation and eminent domain.
- Unilateral boundary changes.
- No-bid procurements of construction contracts.
- Operating standards that varied from Florida Statute.
- Exemptions from regulatory reviews and approvals that other companies must navigate.
In response to the legislation, the resort’s president, Jeff Vahle, noted that the company was monitoring it and issued the following statement:
“Disney works under a number of different models and jurisdictions around the world, and regardless of the outcome, we remain committed to providing the highest quality experience for the millions of guests who visit each year.”