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The battle of Reedy Creek culminated Friday with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stripping Disney of special privileges of self-government.
The outcome caps off a retaliatory move by Florida Republicans for Disney’s opposition to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law and what’s widely considered a distraction from the redrawing of congressional maps that will eliminate two majority-Black voting districts. The battle against Disney is the latest front in a culture war waged by DeSantis over COVID-19 restrictions, sexuality and gender that’s launched him into 2024 presidential contention.
“I’m just not comfortable having that type of agenda get special treatment in my state,” DeSantis said. “So the bill here sets the marker.”
The dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District may have massive ripple effects. The counties of Orange and Osceola, where Disney’s sprawling theme park area sits, may inherit over $1 billion of debt owed by Disney. Residents of those counties may also have to pay an average of $2,200 more per household in local property taxes, according to The Miami Herald.
The feud between Florida lawmakers and Disney started when the company vowed to push for repeal of the Parental Rights in Education Law, which prohibits instruction on or discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation in grades K-3, and allows parents to sue school districts if they think the law has been violated. Disney initially stayed silent on the legislation, but later opposed it under pressure from employees.
Disney in March suspended political donations in the state and vowed to push for the law’s repeal. DeSantis shot back by calling the company a “woke corporation” trying to influence state affairs. “If we want to keep the Democrat machine and their corporate lapdogs accountable, we have to stand together now,” DeSantis wrote in a fundraising pitch sent on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden at a Democratic National Committee Fundraiser on Thursday said the current Republican party has drifted from the “traditional, conservative doctrine.”
“Do you think we should be not be able to say, you know, ‘gay'” he said.
Under the new proposal, independent special districts that were created prior to 1968 and haven’t been renewed since will be eliminated. It includes a provision allowing for re-establishment after they’re dissolved.
Currently, Disney and residents of the land it owns in Orlando bear the cost of maintaining the area, including paying for emergency and waste management services. Disney’s special tax district exempts it from a host of regulations and certain taxes and fees related to emergency services and road maintenance. But the special district doesn’t exempt Disney from paying property taxes, and the company is Central Florida’s largest taxpayer, paying nearly $300 million annually to the Orange and Osceola counties on top of roughly $250 million in other state taxes.
If those counties have to take on oversight of Reedy Creek, they’d have to do so without meaningfully more funds. The district includes four theme parks, two water parks, a sports complex, 75 lane miles of roadway, 67 miles of waterway, its own emergency services, an environmental science laboratory, an electric power-generating and distribution facility, a natural gas distribution system and a unique waste collection system.
Some critics contend that the Florida Legislature can’t unilaterally dissolve Reedy Creek. Under state statutes on planning and development, a majority of a district’s resident electors must approve dissolving their special district.
“This is another example of petty, punitive and performative politics by Governor Ron DeSantis,” Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando, told The Hollywood Reporter. “He’d rather deflect and distract from the fact that he’s erasing black minority districts from Florida’s congressional maps and ignore real life problems because that’s appealing to his political base. Meanwhile, every day people are struggling to make ends meet in our state. It’s disturbing to see his political ambitions supersede the needs of the state.”
Disney didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
April 22, 12:40 p.m. This story has been updated throughout to reflect that the bill was signed into law.
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