Florida Governor DeSantis Considers State Takeover of Special Disney District

DeSantis, a Republican, told reporters Monday that it’s fairer to other businesses if the state controls the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special district that since 1967 has essentially allowed the Walt Disney Company to control the land around his properties.

“The way forward is that Disney will not control its own government in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “Disney will have to follow the same laws that all other companies have to follow the state of Florida. They will pay their fair share of taxes. »

The remarks offered the first glimpse of DeSantis’ plan for Reedy Creek after the governor and Republican lawmakers passed new legislation last month to disband the district in a special session – a move critics called a retaliation. for Disney speaking out against a new Florida law that will limit what schools can teach about sexual orientation and gender identity. The fate of Disney, Florida’s largest employer, and the district’s existing debt remain unclear in the weeks since the contentious vote.

Democrats and local officials have suggested that local governments and taxpayers in surrounding Osceola and Orange counties could be responsible for that debt if Reedy Creek ceases to exist. That view is supported by Reedy Creek in a recent statement to its bondholders and an analysis by the state Senate, which concluded in April that the local government “assumes all debt of the pre-existing special district.”

But DeSantis promised that local and state taxpayers would not have to pay Reedy Creek’s outstanding debt, which officials say is about $1 billion. He said the government would likely collect more taxes once Disney’s special status was eliminated once it was on par with other theme parks operating in Florida.

“It’s more likely that the state will just take control and make sure we’re able to enforce the law and make sure we collect the taxes,” he said.

DeSantis did not provide details on how the state would take control of Reedy Creek. In Florida, the governor appoints board members who oversee many special districts in the state. Prior to this new law, members of Reedy Creek’s board of directors were people who owned property within the boundaries of the district — primarily people with Disney ties.

A plan for Reedy Creek and Disney is unlikely to be finalized before the November election, DeSantis said, because he wants input from new legislative leaders. The new law that would dissolve Reedy Creek will not go into effect until June 2023.

But DeSantis was adamant that he didn’t believe stewardship of Reedy Creek and its governmental functions – including the operation of the fire department, water systems, roads and building inspectors for Disney properties – should be the responsibility of local governments.

“First of all, it would be a cash cow for them if they had Disney,” DeSantis said. “But I’m afraid they’re using this as an excuse to raise people’s taxes when that’s what they’d want to do anyway and then try to blame Reedy Creek, so we’re not going to give them that opportunity. »

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