Gov. Ron DeSantis clears a way to revoke Disney’s special district in Florida
By Brooks Barnes
In a move widely seen as retaliation, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked Florida lawmakers earlier this week to consider the “termination” of self-governing privileges that Disney World has held in the Orlando area for 55 years. He acted after Disney, the state’s largest private employer, paused political donations in Florida and condemned a new state education law that opponents call “Don’t Say Gay.”
The Florida Legislature had already been scheduled to convene this week for a special session on congressional redistricting. On Tuesday, DeSantis, a Republican, issued a proclamation allowing the Republican-controlled body to also take up bills that would eliminate special tax districts that were created before 1968.
Florida has hundreds of such districts, but almost all were set up after that date — with one of the exceptions covering Disney World. It was put together in 1967 and essentially allows the megaresort, which employs roughly 80,000 people, to function as its own municipal government.
Disney’s special zone is called the Reedy Creek Improvement District and gives the company considerable control over the planning and permitting process for construction on its 25,000-acre property, including road building. Reedy Creek also levies taxes on Disney to pay for the resort’s own fire and medical response battalions, among other services. Disney World even generates some of its own electricity through Reedy Creek.
DeSantis and Disney began to publicly spar last month after the company condemned the Parental Rights in Education law, which among many things restricts discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms.
“Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the Legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that,” Disney said March 28, when DeSantis signed the legislation into law. (Disney had initially tried not to take a side on the measure, at least publicly, which prompted an employee revolt.)
In response, DeSantis took aim at Disney, chiding it as “woke” and sending a fundraising email to supporters saying it had “lost any moral authority to tell you what to do.” A couple of Florida legislators then began threatening to revoke Disney World’s special tax district.
Disney declined to comment on Tuesday’s development.