The state is taking on the world’s most magical place. On Thursday, the Florida House of Representatives gave final passage to a bill to dissolve Walt Disney World’s private government.
The decision comes after Governor Ron DeSantis’ feud with Disney over its opposition to a measure that critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
North Fort Myers Representative Spencer Roach, who was a co-sponsor of the Parental Rights in Education bill, spoke with WINK News before the vote. “I just stepped out to do this interview. We will be voting on that bill up or down,” said Roach.
You can read the House’s version of the bill (HB 3-C) here and the Senate’s version of the bill (SB 4-C) here.
“I have to imagine that Disney, on some level, is got to be wondering what the heck has just happened to us?” said UCF Political Science Professor Aubrey Jewett.
Disney employees rose up in opposition to the new law, prompting Disney’s CEO to apologize for not fighting against its passage. Governer DeSantis responded by pushing for the end of all of Disney’s historic special treatment.
“So you have this sort of crony, crony capitalism, corporate welfare for Disney, that’s been going on for over half a century, and it’s wrong. It’s anti-free market, it’s anti-economic liberty,” said Roach. “If you believe that the government should be deciding which businesses prosper or which businesses should not, you may be more at home in Cuba or Venezuela.”
Florida is not Cuba or Venezuela, but governor DeSantis made it clear that he felt that Disney crossed the line.
“For Disney to come out and put a statement and say that the bill should have never passed. And that they are actively going to work to repeal it. I think one, was fundamentally dishonest but two, I think that crossed the line,” said DeSantis.
The bill that the Senate and the House have now given the stamp of approval eliminates the ‘Reedy Creek Improvement District’ that gave Disney over 27,000 acres of land near Orlando in the 1960s. The district also helped alleviate the tax pressure that the company felt from it.
Through the district, Disney pays for all of its own police, fire, and other infrastructure.
“I mean, it’s really what I would consider the largest tax evasion scam in the history of Florida,” said Roach.
Without the Reedy Creek District, the surrounding Orange and Osceola counties will have to foot the bill.
“This fight not only impacts central Florida, but it could impact the whole state,” said Jewett.
Jewett said that weight could fall on all of us. “If you get rid of Reedy Creek, then property taxes may have to go up for the surrounding counties to continue to provide those services. Because, you know, if you still have two or 300,000 tourists coming through Disney every day, we still need roads, we still need drainage, we still need fire and EMT service, we still need an electrical grid, we still need trash pickup.”
DeSantis likely thinks he can take on Disney and win because in practical terms, what is Disney going to do?
DeSantis is a rare republican, unafraid to break republican rules. In Florida, he was the first to realize that it works.
The governor’s fight is not going to close the magic kingdom, Epcot, animal kingdom, Hollywood Studios. The company has already announced plans to transfer 2,000 California employees to Florida because of economics. That’s not going to change either, and with $102 million in the bank, DeSantis probably thinks he can win re-election without Disney’s deep pockets.
Representative Roach said the bill to dissolve the self-governing district is not anti-Disney,
it’s pro fair competition.
“What we’re trying to fix here, to make sure all businesses in the state are playing by the same rules, including Disney,” said Roach.
There is a loophole in the bill that is about to become law. The measure calls for the end of Disney’s private government by June 2023, but it also allows Disney to reestablish its government, leaving an avenue for negotiations.