DeSantis, Florida GOP move to take control of Disney World special tax district, not dissolve it

Republicans in Florida's House of Representatives introduced legislation Monday that would halt a plan to dissolve the special tax district set up for Walt Disney World, as mandated under a plan Florida Republicans pushed through last year. Instead, Disney's Reedy Creek Improvement District would be renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and rather than the Walt Disney Co. picking the board of supervisors, it's five members would be chosen by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and approved by the GOP-led state Senate.

The Reedy Creek district has essentially let Disney govern Reedy Creek as its own magic kingdom since 1967, free of most regulations and many external taxes, as The Wall Street Journal explained in 2022, before Florida's Legislature passed its plan to dissolve the district.

DeSantis pushed for last year's law dissolving Reedy Creek on June 1, 2023, in retaliation for Disney's opposition to his "Don't Say Gay" law, formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law.

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But the Reedy Creek legislation "had critical flaws," the Tampa Bay Times reports. Notably, "it did not say how the state would handle Disney's nearly $1 billion in bond debt, which would fall on the residents of Orange and Osceola counties if Disney's ability to tax itself was removed from law."

The new bill, expected to pass this week during a special legislative session, would stipulate that Reedy Creek "continues in full force and effect under its new name" and modified rules. Along with Disney losing the right to pick the district's board members, the legislation also prevents Disney from building a stadium, nuclear power plant, or airport, and restricts is use of eminent domain and advertisement, said bill sponsor state Rep. Fred Hawkins (R).

Disney will still save millions in building costs, but it's "not going to be happy about this bill," Richard Foglesong, a political science professor at Rollins College and expert on Disney-Florida relations, tells the Journal. "Disney has long been a company that, when they needed water, they went out and dug their own well."

Walt Disney World Resort president Jeff Vahle said the company is monitoring the "complex" legislation. "Disney works under a number of different models and jurisdictions around the world," he added, "and regardless of the outcome, we remain committed to providing the highest quality experience for the millions of guests who visit each year."

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