Lawmakers suspect DeSantis wants to take government control of Disney World – Orlando Sentinel

Central Florida lawmakers suspect Gov. Ron DeSantis is planning to replace Disney World’s special government district with a new one he would control.

DeSantis has not released a plan for the future of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which will be dissolved on June 1, 2023.

State Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, said one scenario could involve a new state-run district with governor-appointed council members.

“The governor will establish a new district, that’s our last word, … controlled by the governor with appointees by the governor,” she said at a press conference on Monday. “Therefore, the debt will be paid, if that were the case, by the State of Florida for more than a billion dollars.”

Reedy Creek, which encompasses Disney World and neighboring properties, has the power to issue tax-exempt bonds, levy taxes, oversee land use and environmental protection, and provide public services essential.

DeSantis mentioned the possibility of a state council during a Fox News Public Meeting Thursday evening, but he did not release details. Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, did not respond to a request for comment Monday on the governor’s plan.

Currently, Reedy Creek is overseen by a five-member Supervisory Board. As the primary landowner, Disney can choose who sits on the board.

Disney hasn’t commented publicly on its strategy, but Reedy Creek sent a note to investors pointing to a state law that Florida assured bondholders it wouldn’t limit the district’s ability to collect taxes. and generate other income.

Stewart said he spoke briefly with Disney officials.

“They’re just saying they’re bundled up and working on it,” she said.

DeSantis fought against Disney for its opposition to what is widely known as the “don’t say gay” law. He said Disney shouldn’t be given “special privileges” like being able to control its own government in Florida.

DeSantis signed legislation on April 22 abolishing Reedy Creek and five other special districts next year, but questions have arisen over how that will be implemented. The governor’s office released a statement after the bill was signed that it intended to propose legislation to create new special districts “in a manner that provides transparency and a level playing field under of the law”.

Under Florida law, Reedy Creek’s debt and assets would be transferred to “general-purpose local government,” which could be Orange and Osceola counties and the Disney-controlled towns of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista.

Democrats have said that could result in a massive property tax hike for local taxpayers who would have to pay off the district’s debts and fund its operations. No detailed estimate exists, but Central Florida leaders expect taxes to rise 20-25%.

“This bill is a knee-jerk reaction, a short-sighted, ill-thought-out political stunt,” said Sen. Victor Torres, D-Kissimmee. “Disney is not the one being punished by this bill. … The taxpayers of Orange and Osceola are going to be punished. All Floridians will be punished if this No. 1 economic industry – tourism – declines to because of this bill.

State Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee, said the governor hadn’t thought about the ramifications of abolishing Reedy Creek and was now controlling the damage.

“He continually reacts to public perception of his actions and doesn’t have a clear agenda,” Bracy said.

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DeSantis insists taxes won’t go up if Reedy Creek is abolished.

“There’s going to be additional legislation…so stay tuned,” he said on Fox News on Thursday. “It will be obvious. Bonds will be paid by Disney. They will pay taxes, probably more taxes.

Even if Reedy Creek is abolished, Disney could retain its autonomy by transferring many of Reedy Creek’s governance powers to two towns it controls, said Chad Emerson, an attorney who wrote a book called “Project Future: The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World”. .”

Disney controls the towns of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, which also received sweeping powers from state lawmakers when Reedy Creek was created in 1967.

“They still exist and can still do almost any activity that Reedy Creek could do. … They are small towns but they have given them the authority of a big city,” Emerson said.

The towns have a combined population of less than 60 people, and residents are all Disney employees or retirees.

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