After removing Disney’s special governing powers last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis now thinks the state should take over the government body that has controlled the entertainment company’s Orlando-area theme parks for the past half-century.
DeSantis, a Republican, told reporters Monday that it is more equitable for other businesses if the state controls the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special district that has basically enabled the Walt Disney Company to manage the property surrounding its holdings since 1967.
“The way ahead is that Disney will not have power over its own government in the state of Florida,” DeSantis stated. “Disney will be subject to the same laws as any other firm in the state of Florida. They will contribute their fair amount of taxes.”
The remarks provided the first glimpse into DeSantis’ plan for Reedy Creek after the governor and Republican lawmakers passed a new law last month in a special session to dissolve the district – a move that critics say was retaliation for Disney speaking out against a new Florida law that limits what schools can teach about sexual orientation and gender identity. In the weeks following the heated vote, the destiny of Disney, Florida’s largest employer, and the district’s outstanding debt remained unknown.
Democrats and local authorities have indicated that if Reedy Creek closes, local governments and taxpayers in the neighboring counties of Osceola and Orange might be on the hook for the debt. Reedy Creek’s latest bondholder declaration, as well as an investigation by the state Senate, decided in April that local government should “absorb all debts of the prior special district.”
However, DeSantis guaranteed that local and state taxpayers would not have to pay Reedy Creek’s outstanding debt, which authorities estimate to be over $1 billion. He predicted that if Disney’s unique status is removed and it is on a more equal footing with other theme parks in Florida, the government would likely collect more taxes.
“It’s more probable that the state would simply acquire control and ensure that we can implement the legislation and collect the taxes,” he added.
DeSantis did not elaborate on how the state will take management of Reedy Creek. The governor of Florida selects board members that administer many of the state’s special districts. Prior to the new law, Reedy Creek board members were mostly persons with links to Disney who owned property inside the district’s limits.
According to DeSantis, a plan for Reedy Creek and Disney would not be finalised until after the November elections because he wants input from incoming legislative leaders. Reedy Creek will not be dissolved under the current statute until June 2023.
However, DeSantis is insistent that guardianship of Reedy Creek and its government tasks, which include administering the fire department, water systems, highways, and building inspectors for Disney’s properties, should not be delegated to local governments.
“First and foremost, having Disney would be a cash cow for them,” DeSantis added. “But I’m concerned that they’ll use it as an excuse to raise taxes on people when that’s what they’d want to do anyway and then blame Reedy Creek, so we’re not going to give them that chance.”