Florida Republicans Set New Bill to Control Disney World’s Tax District

Under the terms of the legislation, Ron DeSantis would be able to appoint members to the governing board of Disney World's district.
ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA, USA - MAY 30: A view of a topiary display of Goofy with Spaceship Earth in the background during the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orange County, Florida on May 30, 2022. Walt Disney World is celebrating its 50th anniversary all of 2022. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Epcot at Disney World
Joseph Prezioso/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Magic Kingdom may soon be under new management. On February 6, The Wall Street Journal reported that Republican lawmakers in Florida’s House of Representatives filed a new bill to alter the Walt Disney Corporation’s governance of its Disney World resort.

The terms of the bill, sponsored by Orlando Rep. Fred Hawkins, would alter Disney’s self-governance status, which allows it to tax itself to cover the cost of water, power, roads, and fire services for Walt Disney World. This policy, established in 1967 with the Reedy Creek Improvement Act, places the resort under a special district known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Under the bill, Reedy Creek will be renamed to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

Although Disney’s self-governance status wouldn’t be eliminated outright, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would have the authority to appoint members to the district’s five-member board of supervisors, which acts as the area’s governing body. Under the current law, Disney appoints all members of the Randy Creek board, letting them control real-estate developments without approval from local or state authorities.

The new bill is the subject of a special legislative session at the House of Representatives and is expected to be adopted by the Republican-controlled body before the session concludes next week. During a Monday press conference, Democratic state senator Jason Pizzo predicted that Disney would likely attempt to challenge the law in court and drag out the case until DeSantis leaves office for an expected presidential run.

“I think Disney anticipates having to litigate on this issue, to sue, hope to get a stay from the court to keep things status quo, and then basically just drag it out until DeSantis is gone and people need, or don’t care, about Disney,” Pizzo told reporters during the press conference, according to Insider. “We are all hoping the governor makes a decision real soon about what he wants to do with his future, so he can leave the business of legislating in Florida to Floridians.”

In a statement to Insider, Disney World president Jeff Vahle said that the company is “monitoring” the legislation plans.

“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,” Vahle said in his statement.

The news is the latest development in a public spat between Disney and DeSantis that began last March, when then-CEO Bob Chapek publicly criticized the governor’s Parental Rights in Education Law, which forbids discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools. Although Chapek initially stayed silent on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and only publicly opposed it after employees staged walkouts over the company’s donations to the legislation’s sponsors, his reversal caused DeSantis to go scorched earth on the corporation, threatening to repeal the Randy Creek act.

In December, after Chapek was fired as CEO and replaced by his predecessor Bob Iger, it was reported that Florida lawmakers were seeking to reach a compromise with Disney that would allow its private government to remain intact. Letting DeSantis appoint members to the Randy Creek board was one compromise floated at the time, along with Florida barring Disney from building a nuclear power plant or an airport on its land — two rights from the initial 1967 agreement the company likely will never use.

Although the terms of the bill might not be preferable for Disney, compared to eliminating the district outright, it’s almost certainly an improvement for both the company and taxpayers in the Orange and Osceola counties under which Disney World falls. Removing Disney’s special government status would have shifted a $1 billion municipal debt for infrastructure at the parks to residents of those counties, potentially resulting in massively increased taxes.

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