People have been flocking from all over the world to enjoy the many perks of Walt Disney World. There is something for everyone here whether you are five years old or 75 years old. You can eat foods from different countries and ride some rides until your heart is content. The beds at the resorts hug you because they are so plush and comfortable. The water is always warm in the pools for you to swim in. You will smile until you catch a cramp in your face! Kids enjoy all of the animations and get the chance to see their favorite Disney characters come to life right in front of their eyes. Teenagers find their inner child and remember how to smile when they are spending time with their family. Adults can have a moment to themselves since all of the rides their kids want to be on won’t let adults on (hopefully). Senior citizens can become kids again and enjoy the simple pleasures in life while forgetting everything that comes with advanced age.
Now imagine all of that being shut down because you had a different opinion from your governor. Imagine that the cost of tickets is now doubled, even tripled, because Walt Disney World has lost its tax privileges that were instated over fifty years ago. In late April, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis hastily signed a bill that abolished several decades-old independent districts in the state. An important district that we are familiar with is the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which is the self-governing home to the entire Walt Disney World Resort. This whole issue came to be when the CEO of Walt Disney World vowed to support efforts to repeal Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” law, which Ron DeSantis signed in March. This bill is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and some critics have said it is anti-LGBTQ.
It wasn’t until after the bill passed the Republican-led House and Senate that Disney CEO Bob Chapek made the company’s opposition known at a meeting with shareholders. Many Disney employees encouraged Mr. Chapek to speak out against the bill because if it did become law, it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, nonbinary, and transgender kids and families. Unfortunately, the bill did become law this year. On the day the law was enacted, Disney issued a statement, saying: “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
Ron DeSantis is in a dispute with Walt Disney World because they do not agree with his stance regarding the Parental Rights in Education law or the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Walt Disney World previously stated that it was pausing all of its political donations in Florida while they work on a new approach to advocacy and political giving. This was something Ron DeSantis was not happy about. Instead of respecting an individual’s right to disagree, he retaliated. A few weeks later he signed another bill that was brought forward by his fellow Republicans. The bill is called SB 4-C. It will terminate independent special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968. That includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which lets Walt Disney World govern itself entirely. Before he signed this bill into law, DeSantis said of Disney, “You’re a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you’re going to marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state? We view that as a provocation, and we’re going to fight back against that.” How is pausing political donations attacking the parents in Florida? What do the two have to do with each other? Correct me if I’m wrong, but what links the two? Can someone please tell me?
In 1967, Florida Legislature established the Reedy Creek Improvement District so that Walt Disney Company could implement its proposal to turn the 40 square miles of land in Central Florida’s Orange and Osceola counties into what would now be known as the Walt Disney World Resort. Reedy Creek Improvement District was given authority that resembles a county government. Their duties include the ability to collect taxes and issue bonds to fund projects. Walt Disney World became responsible for paying the cost of providing services such as power, water, roads, road repairs, fire departments, and other emergency services. Due to that stipulation, residents of Orange and Osceola counties do not pay taxes for any of those services unless they live inside the property lines of the district.
Jacob Schumer, an attorney in Maitland, Florida, specializes in local government law. He has said that Reedy Creek Improvement District’s hefty debt is another issue that must be taken care of no matter what happens. He wrote in Bloomberg Law in April that another state statute says that, if the district is dissolved, its debt would be the responsibility of the local government, which in this case means Orange and Osceola counties. But then there would need to be talks about how to divide the outstanding debt between the two counties. An even bigger legal issue, according to Schumer, is that by dissolving Reedy Creek Improvement District, Florida Legislature would be going back on another state law that pledges to “not limit or alter the rights of the district until all such bonds together with interest thereon are fully met and discharged.”
“Florida simply cannot promise to prospective bondholders that it won’t interfere with Reedy Creek, and then dissolve Reedy Creek,” he argued. “If Reedy Creek is ever dissolved, it would be a monumental and complicated enterprise even on a year-long timeline. The district has a nine-figure annual budget for expenditures, and even ignoring its various debts, it has a plethora of other contracts that somehow would have to be assigned to and divided between Orange and Osceola counties. However, the dissolution will have to wait until all of its bonds are paid in full.” In 2018, a Reedy Creek Improvement District utility revenue bond was issued which is not redeemable until October 2029. This means that the district can’t be dissolved until then at the earliest. This will definitely put a damper on the governor’s plans.
Under the new law signed by DeSantis, Reedy Creek Improvement District is scheduled to be dissolved on June 1, 2023. There is one redeeming quality on the side of Walt Disney World though. A provision in the law allows for the state Legislature to reestablish the districts on or after that date. The citizens of the district will be happy to know that our Governor DeSantis is telling them that the debt incurred by Disney will not be the responsibility of the taxpayers, probably. DeSantis has made numerous public statements that Walt Disney World, not the local taxpayers, will be responsible for all tax and debt payments if the Reedy Creek Improvement District is dissolved as he wants it to be. “The bonds will be paid by Disney. They will be paying taxes, probably more taxes. They will follow the laws that every other person has to do, and they will no longer have the ability to run their own government,” he said at a Fox News town hall on April 28.
Reedy Creek Improvement District collects about $105 million annually in taxes and fees from Walt Disney World as well as district residents. The taxes and fees are used to pay for the numerous public services it provides. It also is approaching $1 billion in outstanding bond debt. The Orange County Tax Collector, Scott Randolph, has said that “doing away with Reedy Creek Improvement District could cause the county to increase property taxes for residents by 20% to 25% to cover any inherited costs.” The costs of living in Florida have already gone higher than most people can afford. Do you think the residents will be willing to pay more to live here without an increase in their income? Imagine having an emergency at Walt Disney World and you have to wait longer for an ambulance because they are now provided by the county instead of Walt Disney World directly. People get sick all the time especially when they are on vacation. It seems that DeSantis is not thinking about the future when he is making hasty decisions.
He’s not even sure of the final repercussions of his actions. He has a lot of probably’s, maybe’s, and might be in his statements when it comes to Walt Disney World. He isn’t even sure of what is going to happen to the two counties that Walt Disney World resides in once the district is dissolved. This action has come to the light of day just because Walt Disney World doesn’t agree with him and they are no longer giving him political donations. Can we please elect a grown-up governor next time? We do not need another Donald Trump type signing ridiculous laws into effect that make no sense to the citizens with common sense. You may have fooled the masses to get you elected but they will eventually see your true colors.
People have fought for years for equality and rights that they shouldn’t have had to even fight for. Why can’t everyone learn to accept the differences between us and let everyone be happy? How can one man make the choices for an entire state that will cause so much upheaval? Citizens of Florida, I encourage you to speak up and take a stand against the ridiculous actions of the governor and other elected officials that are not thinking of the people. They are only thinking of themselves and forcing their opinions on us. Do you want to pay more taxes? Do you want to move from a home you’ve known since 1970? Do you want to pay twice as much to go to Walt Disney World? Please, speak up and take a stand. Florida needs you!