Florida passes bill to end Disney self-government in the state
State House of Representatives gave final passage to the bill Thursday
The Florida House of Representatives gave final passage to a bill that would dissolve Walt Disney World's private government on Thursday, handing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis a victory in his feud with the entertainment giant over its opposition to a measure that critics have dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" law.
The move could have huge tax implications for Disney, whose series of theme parks have over the decades transformed Orlando into one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, and serves to further sour the relationship between the Republican-led government and a major political player in the state.
For DeSantis, the attack on Disney is his latest salvo in a culture war waged over policies involving race, gender and the coronavirus, battles that have made him one of the most popular GOP politicians in the country and a likely 2024 presidential candidate.
The dispute with Disney began with the company's criticism of a new law barring instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade as well as instruction that is not "age appropriate or developmentally appropriate."
In March, Disney said it would suspend political donations in the state and added that it would in turn support organizations working to oppose the new law. DeSantis and his fellow Republicans then lashed out at Disney, and have defended the law as reasonable.
"Disney and other woke corporations won't get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer," DeSantis wrote in a fundraising pitch Wednesday. "If we want to keep the Democrat machine and their corporate lapdogs accountable, we have to stand together now."
The bill passed by the legislature on Thursday would eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney government is known, as well as a handful of other similar districts by June 2023. The measure leaves room for the districts to be re-established, with a Republican legislative leader signalling a likely restructuring of a 1967 deal that lawmakers struck with the company that allows it to provide services such as zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure.
Democrats have warned that the move could cause local homeowners to get hit with big tax bills if they have to absorb bond debt from Disney — although such details are far from clear.
'Punitive, petulant political payback'
Democrats, the minority party in the Florida Legislature, have railed against the proposal as clear retaliation against a company that has been a major economic driver in the state.
"Let's call this what it is: it's the punitive, petulant political payback to a corporation who dared to say the emperor has no clothes, but if they behave this next election cycle, maybe we'll put it back together," said Sen. Gary M. Farmer, a Democrat.
Disney did not return an email seeking comment. The company is one of Florida's biggest private employers and last year said it had more than 60,000 workers in the state. It is not immediately clear exactly how Disney or neighbouring governments would be affected if the district was dissolved.
The creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and the control it gave Disney over 11,000 hectares in Florida, was a crucial element in the company's plans to build near Orlando in the 1960s. Company officials said they needed autonomy to plan a futuristic city along with the theme park. The city never materialized, however; instead, it morphed into the Epcot theme park.