Nine months after pushing legislation to eliminate Disney World’s governmental district, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is moving ahead with a plan that would replace it with a state-controlled board.
A notice published Friday on the Osceola County website said the state will take up legislation “increasing state oversight, accountability, and transparency of the” Reedy Creek Improvement District. DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske said in a press release, “The corporate kingdom has come to an end. Under the proposed legislation, Disney will no longer control its own government, will live under the same laws as everyone else, will be responsible for their outstanding debts, and will pay their fair share of taxes. Imposing a state-controlled board will also ensure that Orange County cannot use this issue as a pretext to raise taxes on Orange County residents.”
DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Theme Park Tribune on whether the bill will seek to give the state any control over content in Disney World’s rides, shows and attractions.
Neither Disney nor the Reedy Creek Improvement District that it controls have responded to requests from multiple media outlets for comment on the still-unfiled legislation. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, a Democrat, responded to the governor’s statement by saying, “We look forward to working with the Reedy Creek Improvement District for many years to come. Any statements made by state officials to suggest that Orange County would use the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District as a pretext to raise taxes on its residents is reprehensive and baseless.”
It’s the latest salvo in a DeSantis vs. Disney battle that began in 2022 over Disney opposing another law, dubbed by its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. That legislation forbid “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in public schools from kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” The vague language of the bill has led to concerns that teachers could face repercussions for answering students’ questions on subjects such as same-sex marriage or AIDS in their classrooms.
DeSantis made no secret that retaliation was his motivation for eliminating the Reedy Creek Improvement District, saying last April that he viewed Disney’s opposition to the education law “as a provocation and we’re going to fight back against that.” While DeSantis and Florida Republicans had not detailed what would replace the district, his office denied reports that the status quo would be restored and insisted the district’s outstanding bond debt would not fall on local taxpayers.
Since then, Disney has jettisoned CEO Bob Chapek, who earned the ire of both sides of the political spectrum, first declining to oppose the bill and then openly calling for its repeal. Returning CEO Bob Iger said of the “Don’t Say Gay” fight in November that “I was sorry to see us dragged into the that battle,” while calling “inclusion and acceptance and tolerance” one of Disney’s “core values.”
The Friday announcement is still short on details about the bill. While DeSantis’ office said it will ensure Disney World “will pay their fair share of taxes,” the resort paid $780 million in state and local taxes in fiscal year 2021, along with an extra annual payment for services provided by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.