ORLANDO, Fla. – The Florida Legislature will get Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to remake the special taxing district for Walt Disney World in the upcoming legislative session, according to a notice filed in Osceola County.
The notice said the government intends to seek a bill before the Florida Legislature related to the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which straddles Orange and Osceola counties.
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The notice does not include a detailed plan, but it does give a basic idea of what the DeSantis administration wants:
- Removing and revising powers of the district
- Increasing state oversight, accountability and transparency
- Revising the selection process, membership qualifications and compensation
- Ensuring debts and bond obligations remain with the district and not transferred to other governments
- Revising the district’s authority of local permitting and regulation
- Revising the district regulatory framework and structure
- Instituting reporting requirements
DeSantis’ communications director Taryn Fenske issued this statement to News 6 on Friday:
“The corporate kingdom has come to an end. Under the proposed legislation, Disney will no longer control its own government, will live under the same laws as everyone else, will be responsible for their outstanding debts, and will pay their fair share of taxes. Imposing a state-controlled board will also ensure that Orange County cannot use this issue as a pretext to raise taxes on Orange County residents.”Taryn Fenske, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' communications director
“The big change effectively would be, Reedy Creek might effectively continue to exist, but with government people running it, not private people running it,” said State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County. “So if Reedy Creek sought to issue government debt, it would be because the government thinks it’s a good idea, not because a private company thinks it’s a good idea.”
The Reedy Creek Improvement District was created in the 1960s to allow the Walt Disney Company a way to work as a government and handle issues, like permitting, in an expedited manner. The district behaves as a government would, with its own board to oversee utilities, infrastructure, roads and a fire department. Disney paid taxes to Reedy Creek and also still paid property taxes in Orange and Osceola counties — in fact, Disney is one of the top property taxpayers in Orange County.
Last year, after former Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek criticized Florida for the Parental Rights in Education law, known to critics as the Don’t Say Gay law, the Florida Legislature and DeSantis passed a law to dissolve Reedy Creek.
Fine helped push for the dissolution legislation last year.
“My constituents did not like the idea that a California company used their special privileges in order to attack the sovereignty of the state in which they were a guest,” Fine said. “And so they agreed with the idea of not giving Disney special privileges over their competitors, which is what we eliminated last year.”
DeSantis then spent the next few months promising a plan would come to fruition that would not leave Orange and Osceola taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in government spending and debt incurred by the district.
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Fine points out that all of the 1,600 special districts in the state had government control — except Reedy Creek.
“Ultimately, they’re accountable to the people, either through a direct election, or through the people who pick those people,” Fine said. “In the case of Reedy Creek, they’re not accountable to anyone because a private corporation picks the board. And that’s just a bad idea.”
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings released a statement Friday about the possible legislation.
“For over 50 years, Walt Disney World has been an outstanding community partner to Central Florida. As an Orlando native, I tip my hat to Disney for having the willingness to continue investing in Orange County. We look forward to working with the Reedy Creek Improvement District for many years to come. Any statements made by state officials to suggest that Orange County would use the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District as a pretext to raise taxes on its residents is reprehensive and baseless.”Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings
Last month DeSantis’ office denied a report by the Financial Times that his office was working on a deal that would allow Disney to keep the Reedy Creek district with modifications.
No bill has been filed in the Florida Legislature for the upcoming legislative session as of yet. Florida lawmakers are holding committee meetings throughout January in Tallahassee.
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