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DeSantis takes control of Disney's Reedy Creek Improvement District

Gov. Ron DeSantis
Scott Keeler
Associated Press
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

TALLAHASSEE --- About a year after the Walt Disney Co. angered him by opposing a controversial education law, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a bill that shifts control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District from Disney to the governor’s office.

The bill (HB 9B), which passed during a special legislative session this month, gives DeSantis authority to appoint the special district’s five-member Board of Supervisors and changes the name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

The district will continue to have wide-ranging authority, including the ability to levy property taxes and fees, issue bonds and provide services such as water and sewer systems, roads and parking facilities.

“There is a new sheriff in town and accountability will be the order of the day,” DeSantis said during a bill-signing event at the Reedy Creek Fire Station #4 in Lake Buena Vista.

The law removed parts of the district’s authority, such as the power to potentially construct a nuclear power plant, airport and stadium.

The state created the Reedy Creek district in 1967 and essentially gave Disney control over issues such as land use, fire protection and sewer services that are typically handled by local governments.

But at DeSantis' urging, lawmakers last year decided to dissolve Reedy Creek and five other special districts across the state after Disney angered the governor by opposing a law that restricts classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation. The dissolutions, however, had an effective date of June 1, 2023, which left time for lawmakers to re-establish and revamp the districts.

During this month’s special session, the Republican-controlled Legislature reversed course on dissolving Reedy Creek but made changes in its governance. Lawmakers said the changes wouldn’t affect the operations of Disney’s theme parks.

DeSantis’ office issued a news release Monday with a headline that said the legislation ends the “corporate kingdom of Walt Disney World.”

“Allowing a corporation to control its own government is bad policy, especially when the corporation makes decisions that impact an entire region,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement. “This legislation ends Disney’s self-governing status, makes Disney live under the same laws as everybody else and ensures that Disney pays its debts and fair share of taxes.”

But Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, in a statement called it “absolutely wild to see a self-proclaimed capitalist like DeSantis celebrate the government takeover of a private board which is exactly what the governor just did today.”

“If DeSantis actually wants to end the corporate kingdom then he should support policies like HB 769/SB 1144 that close corporate tax loopholes that companies like Disney exploit,” Eskamani wrote, referring to legislation that she and another Democrat filed. “But this was never about tax policy or corporate accountability --- this was always about DeSantis and his sick agenda to target already marginalized people and silent dissent.”

DeSantis also announced his choices for the board: attorney Michael Sasso of Seminole County; attorney Martin Garcia of Tampa; attorney Brian Aungst of Clearwater; Ron Peri, CEO of The Gathering USA, a faith- and culture-based ministry; and Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler, whose husband Christian Ziegler is chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

The newly appointed board members are subject to Senate confirmation.

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