TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida House of Representatives on Thursday gave final passage to a bill that would dissolve the private government of Walt Disney World, giving Republican Governor Ron DeSantis a victory in his feud with the giant. Entertainment for opposing a measure that critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
The move could have huge tax implications for Disney, whose string of theme parks has turned Orlando into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and serves to further sour relations between the Republican-led government and a major political actor in the state.
For DeSantis, the attack on Disney is his latest salvo in a culture war waged against policies such as race, gender and the coronavirus, battles that have made him one of the most popular GOP politicians in the country. and a likely 2024 presidential candidate.
The dispute with Disney involves the company’s criticism of a new law banning teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade as well as teaching that is not “appropriate to age or development”.
In March, Disney announced it would suspend political donations in the state and added that it would in turn support organizations that oppose the new law. DeSantis and his fellow Republicans then lambasted Disney and defended the law as reasonable.
“Disney and other woke corporations will no longer get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns,” DeSantis wrote in a fundraising pitch Wednesday. “If we’re going to hold the Democratic machine and its corporate lackeys accountable, we need to unite now.”
The bill passed by the Legislature on Thursday would eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney government is known, along with a handful of other similar districts by June 2023. The measure restores the districts, leaving an avenue to renegotiate its future. It is now moving to DeSantis’ office to be signed into law.
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.
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 over 27,000 acres (11,000 hectares) 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.