DeSantis signs law to reform special district for Disney, impose state control

 February 28, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Monday signed into law a bill that dramatically reforms the unique Reedy Creek Improvement District that granted the Disney corporation near autonomy in the Sunshine State, the New York Post reported.

The area will now be known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and along with the name change comes a new state-controlled oversight board and the removal of various preferential privileges and exemptions from state laws that the corporation has enjoyed since 1967.

These changes come as a result of Disney's decision to publicly oppose last year a law supported by DeSantis that protects the rights of parents in the education of their children and prohibits schools from discussing age-inappropriate topics like gender identity and sexual orientation with young schoolchildren.

Major changes coming Disney's way

"Allowing a corporation to control its own government is bad policy, especially when the corporation makes decisions that impact an entire region," Gov. DeSantis said in a statement. "This legislation ends Disney’s self-governing status, makes Disney live under the same laws as everybody else, and ensures that Disney pays its debts and fair share of taxes."

Indeed, the press release from the governor noted that the new law ends Disney's near-autonomous status and its exemptions from the state's building and fire prevention codes as well as the state's regulatory review and approval processes.

It further ends Disney's special privileges and preferential treatment over others, imposes transparency requirements, ensures the corporation pays its share of taxes and municipal debt obligations, and prevents local governments from raising taxes unilaterally.

At the same time, Gov. DeSantis also announced the appointment of five new oversight board members, who must be confirmed by the state senate, and will replace the prior board staffed with Disney's own appointed members.

"A new sheriff in town"

Gov. DeSantis held a press conference in conjunction with the bill-signing ceremony to say a few words about the new law, what it would accomplish and prevent, and why it had been deemed necessary in the first place.

"Today, the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end," the governor said. "There’s a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day."

At another point, DeSantis said with certainty, "Disney’s going to pay its fair share of taxes and Disney’s going to honor the debt and that’s exactly what this proposed piece of legislation will do."

District reformed instead of dissolved completely

The Post noted that Gov. DeSantis and the Republican-led state legislature had initially sought to completely dissolve the special district for Disney but had faced some legitimate concerns and criticism about how doing so might allow Disney to pass its debt obligations off on taxpayers, who could have also seen tax hikes from local governments in the area.

In the end, it was decided that it made better sense economically -- and better protected the taxpaying citizens -- to leave the structure of the special district in place, albeit now under state control and with substantial reforms to do away with the privileges and exemptions that were afforded to Disney alone more than 50 years ago to incentivize the initial creation of the Walt Disney World Resort and theme parks.

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