Governor Ron DeSantis is fighting back against the Magic Kingdom’s ability to defy Florida’s laws.
On Friday, a DeSantis-backed bill was introduced in the Florida Legislature to replace Walt Disney World’s self-governing powers with a state-run board.
The notice was served on the website of Osceola County, where Disney World partly resides along with Orange County. DeSantis is spearheading the effort, according to official sources. The planned legislation will mandate that board members are to be appointed by the governor.
“The corporate kingdom has come to an end,” Taryn Fenske, DeSantis’ communications director, told Fox News. “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,” she added.
As Fox News reported, the planned legislation will also “ensure that the company will pay upwards of $700 million dollars in unsecured debt accumulated by Disney’s special jurisdiction — known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District — and not Orange County taxpayers, according to the sources.”
In 2022, DeSantis implemented a state law dissolving Walt Disney World’s special governing power after the company publicly opposed the state’s parental rights bill. At the bill signing ceremony, the governor said Disney lied about the “Parental Rights in Education” law’s contents and he called such political efforts unacceptable.
In December, spokesman for Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis denied reports that Florida was walking back his plans to revoke Disney’s special tax district.
DeSantis signed legislation eliminating Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District in April, ending special administrative and tax privileges the company had enjoyed since 1967. Florida lawmakers were reportedly planning to walk back the elimination of Reedy Creek, due in part to concerns about the additional costs it could impose on the state, according to a Financial Times report.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District allows Disney to operate its own government within Disney World in Florida, meaning it collects taxes to fund its own water, roads and other infrastructure.
“Florida lawmakers are working on plans to reverse a move that would strip Disney of its right to operate a private government around its theme parks,” the Financial Times report read. “State lawmakers are working on a compromise that would allow Disney to keep the arrangement largely in place with a few modifications.”
DeSantis’ team denied any plans to reverse course on its rebuke of Disney.
“Governor DeSantis does not make ‘U-turns,’” DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin said. “The governor was right to champion removing the extraordinary benefit given to one company through the Reedy Creek Improvement District.”
“We will have an even playing field for businesses in Florida, and the state certainly owes no special favors to one company. Disney’s debts will not fall on the taxpayers of Florida. A plan is in the works and will be released soon,” he said.
The dispute between DeSantis and Disney began when then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek came out against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill following widespread pressure to oppose the legislation, which activists had characterized as anti-gay. The legislation bans classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade.
Soon after DeSantis signed the bill eliminating the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney stepped away from politics and quietly removed itself from the fight with DeSantis in an apparent effort to preserve its special tax privileges. It turns out that those efforts were too little, too late for Governor Ron DeSantis.
"*" indicates required fields
OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.