Florida’s Republican-controlled state legislature approved a measure to dissolve the Walt Disney Company’s governing agreement with the state, potentially ending a decades-old deal that allowed the company to manage and tax its sprawling part and resort properties following its opposition to what opponents have called the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
During a special legislative session agreed to redraw the state’s redistricting plans, Florida’s House of Representatives gave final passage on 21 April to a measure that sets up the dissolve of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the governing structure for Disney’s Orlando-area properties.
The Republican Governor Ron DeSantis moves hands to victory in his ongoing feud with the corporate giant – the state’s largest private employer, with roughly 80,000 employees – and an economic engine and political heavyweight that has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to state legislators, including at least $50,000 to the governor’s re-election campaign.
It also could create massive tax and financial headaches for residents that could absorb Disney’s bond debt, as legislators work to untangle what happens next before the district’s dissolve takes effect in 2023.
Following weeks of pressure among LGBT+ advocates and Disney employees to publicly lobby against the GOP-backed Parental Rights in Education Act, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that the company would oppose the bill and suspend its political donations in the state.
The measure, which Governor DeSantis signed into law on 28 March, prohibits instruction of “sexual orientation or gender identity” from kindergarten through the third grade and any such discussion “that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” in other grades.
The broadly written law – the subject of a federal lawsuit claiming violations of federal antidiscrimination statutes – could freeze classroom speech involving LGBT+ people and issues, from civil rights history lessons to discussion of LGBT+ students, school staff and their families, according to opponents.
“Our goal as a company is for this law to be appealed by the legislature or struck down by the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that,” Disney said after the governor signed the bill last month .
Two days later, Florida state Rep Spencer Roach said a group of state legislators met at least twice to discuss potentially changing municipal government agreements affecting Disney in retaliation for what he called the company’s “woke ideology.”
In a campaign fundraising email to supporters this week, Governor DeSantis said “Disney and other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer.”
“They even tried to attack me to advance their woke agenda,” the email said. “And now is the time to put the power back in the hands of Floridians and out of the pockets of woke executives.”
The Reedy Creek Improvement District, implemented in 1967, operates as the governing structure for Disney properties in Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, spanning 39 square miles and land across Orange and Osceola counties.
Through the district, Disney effectively controls its land use and zoning rules and operates its own public services, including water, sanitation, emergency services and infrastructure maintenance, by levying taxes on itself through the district board.
Democratic legislators in Florida have warned that without the district, taxpayers in neighboring counties would inherit tens of millions of dollars in Disney’s bond debt through potentially massive tax bills, though the details are murky.
The Independent you have requested comment from Disney.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.