Florida Legislature Votes to Strip Disney’s Self-Government

Florida Legislature Votes to Strip Disney's Self-Government Florida Legislature Votes to Strip Disney's Self-Government (David Roark/Disney Resorts via Getty Images)

ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE Thursday, 21 April 2022 01:27 PM

The Florida House of Representatives on Thursday gave final passage to a bill that would dissolve Walt Disney World's private government, handing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis a victory in his feud with the entertainment giant over its opposition to the new Parental Rights in Education law.

The move could have huge tax implications for Disney, whose series of theme parks have transformed Orlando into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and serves to further sour the relationship between the Republican-led government and a major political player in the state.

For DeSantis, the attack on Disney is his latest salvo in a culture war waged over policies such as race, gender, and the coronavirus, battles that have turned him into one of the most popular GOP politicians in the country and a likely 2024 presidential candidate.

The dispute with Disney involves the company’s criticism of a new law barring instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade as well as instruction that is not “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”

In March, Disney said it would suspend political donations in the state and added that it would in turn support organizations working to oppose the new law. DeSantis and his fellow Republicans then lashed out at Disney, and have defended the law as reasonable.

“Disney and other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer,” DeSantis wrote in a fundraising pitch Wednesday. “If we want to keep the Democrat machine and their corporate lapdogs accountable, we have to stand together now.”

The bill passed by the legislature on Thursday would eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney government is known, as well as a handful of other similar districts by June 2023. The measure allows for the districts to be reestablished, leaving an avenue to renegotiate its future. It now moves to DeSantis' office to be signed into law, which he has said he would do.

Democrats have criticized the proposal as clear retaliation against the company and warned that local homeowners could get hit with big tax bills if they have to absorb bond debt from Disney — although such details are far from clear.

Disney is one of Florida's biggest private employers, last year saying it had more than 60,000 workers in the state. It is not immediately clear how the company or local governments around its properties would be affected if the district was dissolved.

The creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and the control it gave Disney over 27,000 acres (11,000 hectares) in Florida, was a crucial element in the company’s plans to build near Orlando in the 1960s. Company officials said they needed autonomy to plan a futuristic city along with the theme park. The city never materialized, however; instead, it morphed into the Epcot theme park.