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DeSantis Battles Disney for State Control Over Reedy Creek Improvement District

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced on Monday that the state legislature would take action against Disney World, intending to nullify the company’s attempts to maintain control of its special taxing district through last-minute tactics. 

The conflict began last year when Florida passed a law limiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, which Disney opposed.

DeSantis vowed to take over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special taxing district that has given Disney control over its Central Florida theme park land for half a century. However, Disney struck a deal with the outgoing board in February, seemingly maintaining control. 

Speaking on an Orlando radio program, DeSantis referred to the agreement as “defective” and insisted that the new board overseeing Disney’s taxing district would hold the company accountable.

Possible Retaliation Measures

The governor suggested various possible retaliation measures, including building a prison, a state park, or another theme park near the Magic Kingdom. He also mentioned that the new board could raise taxes on Disney’s theme park empire to pay down the district’s existing debt.

In response to Disney’s agreement with the outgoing board, DeSantis called it a “legal fiction” and claimed the GOP-controlled legislature would move quickly to nullify it. 

He emphasized that Disney should not live under different rules than everyone else, and only then would he agree to meet with Disney CEO Bob Iger to resolve the conflict.

State Oversight and Inspections

Meanwhile, State Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson supported legislation requiring state inspections of theme parks. Currently, the state oversees smaller amusement park rides but not those at large theme parks like Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, and Busch Gardens. However, DeSantis clarified that legislation would only apply to parks in “special districts.”

State Board vs. Disney’s Self-Governing Power

In February, the Florida Legislature approved a plan to replace Disney World’s self-governing authority with a state board. However, hours before the deal was finalized, the outgoing board transferred most of its power to Disney using an obscure royal clause from 1692 in Great Britain. This move led to claims that Disney was essentially becoming the government.

Despite Disney’s insistence that the agreements signed between the company and the district were appropriate and approved in open, noticed public forums, DeSantis stated that the attempt to usurp state oversight would “not go to fly.” The governor announced a forthcoming bill in the Florida Legislature to revoke the agreements and uphold the people’s will.

Ongoing Tensions Between DeSantis and Disney

Governor DeSantis has had multiple clashes with Disney during his tenure. Apart from the disagreement over the Parental Rights in Education bill, the governor criticized Disney World for requiring visitors to wear face masks until mid-2022. 

DeSantis suggested that the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board (CFTOB) might be able to override such business decisions in the future.

DeSantis further argued that the district would be within its rights to ensure that patrons of any business in the district have the option to go mask-free. Details of the new legislative action, spearheaded by Rep. 

Fred Hawkins, who sponsored the original legislation transferring power to the state board, are expected to roll out in the coming days.

As the conflict between the Florida government and Disney continues, both parties will likely face ongoing negotiations and potential legal battles to determine the fate of the Reedy Creek Improvement District and the governance of the region’s theme parks.

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