Florida Taxpayers Sue DeSantis Over Disney Special District Repeal

Florida residents near Walt Disney World filed a lawsuit claiming they will be on the hook to pay $1 billion in Disney’s bond debt if the special district is abolished.
People visit Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on Friday, April 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Walt Disney World

Florida residents in counties surrounding Disney World filed a lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis on May 3, alleging the repeal of Walt Disney’s special district would saddle taxpayers with $1 billion worth of bond debt.

DeSantis signed off on abolishing the Disney district on April 22 seemingly in retaliation of Disney CEO Bob Chapek slamming Florida’s passage of the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Residents of the surrounding Osceola counties now claim DeSantis violated their rights and interest when dissolving the Disney tax breaks and Reedy Creek Improvement District. They seek to block the law.

“It is without question that Defendant Governor DeSantis intended to punish Disney for a 1st Amendment protected ground of free speech,” the lawsuit states, via The Hollywood Reporter. “Defendant’s violation of Disney’s 1st Amendment rights directly resulted in a violation of Plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment rights to due process of law.”

DeSantis previously claimed that Disney aimed to “inject sexuality into the programming that is provided to our youngest kids” and that he personally is “not comfortable having that type of agenda get special treatment” in Florida.

We have everything thought out,” DeSantis said. “Don’t let anyone tell you that Disney is going to get a tax cut out of this. They are going to pay more taxes as a result of this.”

The Walt Disney World Florida property has been covered by the Reedy Creek Improvement District since 1967, giving it self-governance over land use and environmental issues and allowing it to float tax-free municipal bonds. Dissolution of the district will increase taxes for the residents of Central Florida to pay off Disney’s bond debt, estimated to be between $1 billion and $2 billion.

“Stripping Disney of this special district designation will move these major regulatory burdens unto the county, thereby increasing the Plaintiff’s taxes, and will cause significant injury to plaintiffs,” the complaint stated.

The lawsuit also targets Florida lawmakers “threatening to take thousands of jobs” from the state in retaliation for protected speech and argues Florida is violating Disney’s constitutional rights.

Walt Disney Co. has not publicly addressed the Florida special district repeal. The conglomerate issued a statement following the passing of “Don’t Say Gay,” saying the law should “never have been passed.”

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