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Florida lawmakers vote to scrap Disney self-government

(NewsNation) – Florida lawmakers on Thursday gave final passage to a bill that would strip Walt Disney World of its power of self-government, giving Gov. Ron DeSantis a victory in his feud with the entertainment giant.

The move is a new level in DeSantis’ fight with Disney over his opposition to what critics call Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, which limits how Florida educators can discuss identity. gender and sexual orientation from kindergarten to third grade.

In March, Disney said it would support organizations that oppose the new law and suspend political donations in the state.

DeSantis called a special legislative session on redrawing the state’s congressional maps, adding a last-minute proclamation to end “all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968,” which includes the Reedy Creek Improvement Districta special tax district that allows Walt Disney World to oversee its property as a quasi-governmental agency.

It allows the company to control permits, firefighting, power generation and road maintenance at their 27,000-acre resort near Orlando.

“It turns out there are hundreds of them (special independent districts) across the state,” said Florida State Senator Tina Polsky, a Democrat who voted against the measure. “So in order to punish Disney, they figured out a way to distinguish the special independent Disney district from the others. And they decided that districts formed before 1968 and not reconstituted could be dissolved.

“There are actually five other special districts,” she said. “You know, they’re not as serious as Disney’s, Reedy Creek Indie Specialty, because it’s so huge.”

The bill would dissolve the special district on June 1, 2023.

The bill passed by the legislature allows the reinstatement of the districts, leaving an opportunity to renegotiate its future

Florida’s House and Senate are both controlled by Republicans. The bill passed the state Senate on Wednesday and is now moving to DeSantis’ office for enactment.

The move could have huge tax implications for Disney, whose series of theme parks have turned Orlando into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

“That means higher taxes,” Dr. Charles Zelden said on Thursday’s “Rush Hour” show.

Zelden is a professor in the Department of Humanities and Political Sciences at Nova Southeastern University and says residents’ pockets will be among the first things affected.

“Now local taxpayers are going to have to pay for this, unlike those who pay fees and buy tickets at Disney,” Zelden said.

According to Polsky, if no action is taken by the legislature next year, these independent special districts will dissolve and they will have to be absorbed into the counties and cities in which they are physically located.

“Part of reabsorbing these areas is that they’re absorbing debt,” Polsky said. “So this could all be passed on to ratepayers in Orange and Osceola counties. So that’s the concern. »

A Republican state senator told NewsNation that removing Disney’s mini-government could increase property taxes for property owners near Disney by 15-20%.

“That’s why fast-tracking or delaying 12 months,” said State Senator Manny Díaz, a Republican.

Democrats slammed the proposal as clear retaliation against the company and warned local property owners could be hit with big tax bills if they were to absorb Disney’s bond debt – though those details are far from clear.

“Reedy Creek’s debt service alone is over $1 billion,” said State Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat. “This bill does not contain any provision on how this debt service will be met.”

“I call it revenge governance,” Polsky said.

But not all Florida politicians are opposed to DeSantis’ decision. State Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. told “NewsNation Prime” on Thursday that it was not a dig at Disney.

“I think what’s going on, like Governor DeSantis said, we shouldn’t be giving special privileges to private citizens,” Diaz Jr. said.

Disney is one of Florida’s largest private employers, saying last year it had more than 60,000 workers in the state. It is not immediately clear how the company or local governments around its properties would be affected if the district were disbanded.

The creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District and the control it gave Disney of 27,000 acres in Florida was a crucial element in the company’s construction projects near Orlando in the 1960s.

Company officials said they needed autonomy to plan a futuristic city with the theme park. The city never materialized, however; instead, it turned into an Epcot theme park.

Disney has yet to comment on the vote.

The Hill and Associated Press contributed to this report.

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera