TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to repeal a law allowing Walt Disney World to operate private government on its properties in the state, escalating a feud with the entertainment giant over its opposition to what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
The proposal could have huge tax implications for Disney, whose series of theme parks has transformed Orlando into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations over the decades. And Democrats have warned that the move could result in hefty tax bills for local property owners if they were to absorb Disney bond debt — though those details are far from clear.
The measures, pushed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, come as the governor tussles with Disney over the company’s criticism of a new GOP law banning instruction about the woman’s sexual orientation and gender identity. Kindergarten to Grade 3 and instruction that is not “age appropriate”. or appropriate for development.
The bill 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 leaves room for reinstating districts, a legislative leader Republican signaling likely restructuring. from a 1967 agreement lawmakers reached with the company that allows it to provide services such as zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure.
“By doing it so soon, we have until next June or July for this, so we’re giving ourselves more time to think,” Republican Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson told reporters after the vote. “I don’t know how the end will come, but I know it’s a very worthwhile process that we’re taking and I think whatever comes out of it will be better than what we have today.”
Yet the move represents the latest blow to a culture war being waged by DeSantis as he runs for re-election and strengthens himself as a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate thanks to fierce opposition to liberal policies on race. , sex and abortion.
“If Disney wants to fight, they picked the wrong guy,” DeSantis wrote in a fundraising email Wednesday. “As governor, I was elected to put the people of Florida first, and I will not allow an awakened California-based corporation to run our state.”
Democrats, the minority party in the Legislature, opposed the proposal as a clear retaliation against a company that has been a major economic driver in the state.
“Let’s call it that, it’s a punishing and petulant political comeback from a company that dared to say the Emperor had no clothes, but if they perform well in the next election cycle, maybe that we will put it back together,” Sen said. Gary M. Farmer, a Democrat.
Disney did not return an email seeking comment. The company is one of Florida’s largest private employers and last year said it had more than 60,000 workers in the state. It’s not immediately clear how Disney or neighboring governments would be affected if the district were disbanded.
The push to punish Disney came after it announced it would suspend political donations in the state and said it was committed to supporting organizations working to oppose the state’s new law limiting the sexual orientation or gender identification in classrooms.
DeSantis and other Republicans have lambasted Disney and other critics of the law, arguing that the policy is reasonable and that parents, not teachers, should raise these topics with children.
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.
The Florida House of Representatives is expected to consider the bill Thursday.
Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington contributed to this report