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Last May, the GOP-led Florida state legislature voted to deny The Walt Disney Company its special governing powers after the then-CEO Bob Chapek spoke out in opposition to Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” law.
The law was designed to keep schools from presenting LGBTQ and sexually-based topics in the classrooms of K-3 students. Critics of the bill called it “The Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The Walt Disney Company was given control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special taxing district, in 1967.
During a recent news conference, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that the state lawmakers will return to Tallahassee to the state Capitol next week to finalize the plan to strip Disney of its special governing powers.
“I think they’re going to do a special session in a week or two, I think maybe next week, about a whole bunch of different things that need to be taken care of,” DeSantis said. “Including making sure that Disney doesn’t have self-governing status anymore.”
Throughout the year-long feud, DeSantis reminded Floridians that “We’re not going to have a corporation controlling its own government. So the state’s going to have a board to run it. So Disney will not have self-governing status anymore. We’re not going to bend the knee to woke executives in California.”
In another similar statement, the governor said, “Disney will not have governing self-governing status anymore. We’re going to make sure that there are no special legal privileges … and then making sure they’re paying their fair share of taxes and paying the debt.”
Critics contend that following the dismantling of the special district, residents of Orange County, FL will carry the financial burden of paying for services and Disney’s debt.
A spokesperson for the governor told the Orlando Sentinel that a state board would make certain that Orange County wouldn’t raise taxes on residents of the district to pay off Reedy Creek’s $1 billion in bond debt.
The governor said he would prefer a local government take over, rather than a state board, “but I don’t think that they’re prepared for it.
DeSantis explained his displeasure with Disney’s special status saying, “What I would say as a matter of the first principle is I don’t support special privileges in law just because a company is powerful and they’ve been able to wield a lot of power.”
“I think what has happened is there’s a lot of these special privileges that are not justifiable, but because Disney had held so much sway, they were able to sustain a lot of special treatment over the years,” he added.
Reedy Creek, the governing body for the Walt Disney World Resort, is not overly concerned about the governor’s plan.
The company told its investors that the body will continue to operate as usual because the repeal of its status by the state legislature was a violation of the pledge the state made when creating the district.
The Reedy Creek district encompasses 39 square miles, two cities, and land in both Orange and Osceola counties. The company is allowed to act “with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.”
There are five members on the district’s governing board. It can “create its own fire department, seize land via eminent domain, and even has the state’s permission to build a nuclear power plant.”
All eyes will be on Florida to see how the governor’s plan plays out. Will the legislature be able to strip The Walt Disney Company of its special privileges without having a ripple effect on the residents of the counties involved and the state overall?