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‘There’s a New Sheriff in Town’: DeSantis One Step Away from Stripping Disney of Self-Governance Capabilities

Ron DeSantis

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Ron DeSantis is close to beating Disney in the arm wrestling match. The Florida House of Representatives gave half-sanction to the governor’s bill, which would permanently strip the company of its ability to govern itself. The legislation is expected to pass smoothly through the state Senate and reach DeSantis’ desk next week.

The Sunshine State legislators approved the bill 82-31 and have already sent it to the Senate, where it must be dealt with in the next 36 hours. The governor gave a press conference in which he brought down to earth the 189-page text that was approved by the House.

“Disney is going to pay its fair share of taxes, and Disney is going to honor the debt. And that’s exactly what this proposed piece of legislation will do,” he said. The $700 million debt is to be paid by the company, not by Florida taxpayers.

As for its ability to govern itself, acquired in 1967, DeSantis warned that “now, this is obviously now going to be controlled by the state of Florida, which is no longer self-governing for them.” At the same time, he went so far as to issue a warning: “So there’s a new sheriff in town, and that’s just the way it’s gonna be.”

One by one, key points of the DeSantis legislation

The governor’s office published a summary of the main points of the law, which has already passed the state House of Representatives.

The legislation:

  • Permanently removes Disney’s self-governing status.
  • It imposes a state-controlled, term-limited board – with members appointed by the governor – over Disney and its property.
  • Allows the state to tax Disney for potential road projects outside district boundaries.
  • It guarantees that Disney will pay more than $700 million in unsecured debt, not Florida taxpayers.
  • It provides no control of the district to the left-leaning local government of Orange County, which threatened to take advantage of the situation to raise local taxes.
  • Impose Florida law to stop Disney from receiving preferential treatment.
  • Prevents Disney from obtaining more land through compulsory expropriation.
  • Creates a way to force Disney to contribute to local infrastructure.
"There's a new sheriff in town": DeSantis one step away from stripping Disney of its ability to govern itself
DeSantis’ bill to take away Disney’s ability to self-govern has been approved by the Florida Congress. (EFE)

In addition, the local government also published some of the faculties Disney owns in the Reedy Creek Improvement District:

  • Full self-government with a board elected by Disney.
  • Ability to build airports and nuclear facilities.
  • Acquisition of property beyond the territory of the district by expropriation and eminent domain.
  • Unilateral changes of boundaries.
  • Construction contracts without bidding.
  • Operating rules different from Florida law.
  • Exemptions from regulatory reviews and approvals that other companies must pass.

Disney’s response

Speculations about a possible lawsuit by Mickey’s company against the state of Florida have been many. So far, the company has expressed itself only in a statement, signed by Walt Disney World Resort president Jeff Vahle.

“We are monitoring the progression of the draft legislation, which is complex given the long history of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Disney works under a number of different models and jurisdictions around the world, and regardless of the outcome, we remain committed to providing the highest quality experience for the millions of guests who visit each year,” the executive said.

Why is Disney able to govern itself in Florida?

The Reedy Creek Improvement District was created in 1967 by state law, prompted by the company after Walt Disney’s death. It gives The Walt Disney Company full governmental control over the land in and around its Central Florida theme parks.

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Since then, Disney assumed responsibility for providing municipal services to the 101 square kilometers, such as electricity, water, roads, and fire protection. At the same time, it was freed from Florida’s legal bureaucracy and the payment of taxes for the aforementioned services. In practice, it is just another county.

According to the Reedy Creek website, in the beginning, it was miles of wetlands and grass. 55 years later, there are four theme parks, two water parks, a sports complex, 281 kilometers of road, 107 kilometers of waterways, and the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista.

“The cooperation and commitment between the Reedy Creek Improvement District and Walt Disney World Company is as strong today as it was when the District was created in 1967. The result is an example of how a working partnership between business and government can be prosperous for both sides,” they state on the website.

Joaquín Núñez es licenciado en comunicación periodística por la Universidad Católica Argentina. Se especializa en el escenario internacional y en la política nacional norteamericana. Confeso hincha de Racing Club de Avellaneda. Contacto: [email protected] // Joaquín Núñez has a degree in journalistic communication from the Universidad Católica Argentina. He specializes in the international scene and national American politics. Confessed fan of Racing Club of Avellaneda. Contact: [email protected]