Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) now wants the state to take over Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District instead of letting local governments absorb it, he said as he attacked local governments for complaining about having to take on over $1 billion of Reedy Creek’s debt just because Florida Republican lawmakers wanted to punish Disney for speaking out against the state’s Don’t Say Gay law.
Disney World, the state’s largest private employer, has operated since the 1960s under a special deal with the state where they created Reedy Creek and appoint the members of its Board of Supervisors. Reedy Creek acts like a county government over the land Disney World sits on: it provides essential services, passes zoning laws, levies taxes, and sells municipal bonds, except that it’s run by Disney for the sake of making Disney World function.
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Earlier this year, the Disney corporation issued a statement opposing Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law, angering DeSantis and other Republicans. So the state legislature passed a law dissolving Reedy Creek on June 1, 2023, as a way to punish Disney for speaking out (itself a potentially unconstitutional move).
But the law raised questions about what will happen to the over $1 billion in debt that Reedy Creek has. Since the law passed last month says that the 39 square-mile Reedy Creek – along with its assets and liabilities, which includes the debt – will be absorbed by the neighboring Orange and Osceola counties.
Several residents of those counties sued DeSantis for saddling taxpayers with that debt, which amounts to about $2,200 per family in those counties. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said at the time that it would be “catastrophic” for the county’s budget to take on Disney’s debt.
DeSantis’s initial response was bluster. “No! Disney will pay its debts!” he said on Fox News’s Ingraham Angle last month.
Now he’s saying that he is working on a proposal that the state legislature will consider after the November elections that will have the state of Florida govern Reedy Creek after it dissolves.
“I’d much rather have the state leading that effort than potentially having local government (in charge),” DeSantis said, before saying that local leaders like Demings were planning on raising taxes anyway and are champing at the bit to blame the Reedy Creek fiasco for it.
“I’m worried that they (local officials) would use that as a pretext to raise taxes on people when that’s what they would want to do anyways and then try to blame Reedy Creek,” he said. “So we’re not going to give them that opportunity.”
Democrats noted that a state-run district would allow the governor to pick the district’s five-member Board of Supervisors, people who are currently selected by Disney.
The Orlando Sentinel notes that Republican lawmakers didn’t conduct an economic study of their bill to end Reedy Creek in their rush to pass it last month.