Reedy Creek: Why Disney has its own government in Florida and what if it disappears

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Yet eliminating Disney’s special-purpose district, known as Reedy Creek, could have far greater implications for the company and for state taxpayers. Here’s a look at Reedy Creek’s story, why it became a focal point of this special session, and what removing its special status would mean for Disney and Florida taxpayers.

Reedy Creek is the name of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special use district created by state law in May 1967 that gives The Walt Disney Company government control over land in and around its central theme parks from Florida. The neighborhood is located southwest of Orlando.

Back then, the land was little more than uninhabited pasture and swamp, according to Reedy Creek website. With the Special Purpose District, Disney took on responsibility for providing city services such as power, water, roads and fire protection – but was also freed from legal bureaucracy or paying taxes for services that benefited the general public.

According to Richard Foglesong, the author of the book “Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando”, Disney had previously had problems with the government of Anaheim, Calif., at its Disneyland park, which was completed a decade earlier. With these issues in mind, Disney pushed for a special-use district in Florida that would give the company the ability to self-govern.

In exchange, Florida has become the home port of Disney World and its dozens of tourists.

“Florida needed Disney more than Disney needed Florida,” Foglesong told CNN.

Today, the Reedy Creek Special District encompasses approximately 25,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties, including four theme parks, two water parks, an athletic complex, 175 miles of roadway, 67 miles waterway and the towns of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vue, his website says.
“The cooperation and commitment between the Reedy Creek Improvement District and the Walt Disney World Company is as strong today as it was when the district was established in 1967,” the Reedy Creek website states. “The result is an example of how a working partnership between business and government can be successful for both parties.”

Why is this a problem now?

The bill passed by the Florida legislature is a form of political retaliation against Disney for its criticism of the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which critics have called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

This state legislation, signed into law last month, prohibits schools from teaching children about sexual orientation or gender identity “in a manner that is not age or developmentally appropriate.” The legislation also allows parents to sue a school district for potential violations.
The law’s vague language and the threat of parental lawsuits have raised concerns that it could lead to discrimination against LGBTQ students and have a chilling effect on classroom discussions. Governor Ron DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw, however, said the legislation would protect children from “groomers,” a slang term for pedophiles, and described those who oppose the law as “probably groomers”.
Ron DeSantis signals support for stripping Disney of special standalone status as feud escalates
The CEO of Disney, which employs 75,000 people in Florida, initially refused to condemn the law, but backtracked after being criticized by employees. A spokesperson for the company released a statement last month saying its goal was for the law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down by the courts.

“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” the statement read. The company said it was “committed 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.”

Earlier this week, DeSantis challenged lawmakers to unravel the 55-year-old Reedy Creek Improvement Act in a special legislative session. Disney has not released a statement on the issue.

What is the bill for?

the bill declares that any special district created before November 1968 will be dissolved on June 1, 2023. The text is just over one page and offers few details.

What this means for Disney and for Florida taxpayers is not entirely clear. Republican sponsors were unable to provide detailed answers to questions about the financial and legal implications of the legislation during floor talks Thursday. They suggested the legislature could work out the logistics of the dissolution over the next year.

Dissolving the Special District would mean that Orange and Osceola Counties would assume the assets and liabilities of Reedy Creek. This could result in higher taxes for these residents to pay off Reedy Creek debts and support roads, police, fire protection, waste management, etc.

State Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat, was one of many Democratic lawmakers to criticize the bill for what he called “shoot first, ask questions later.”

“Reedy Creek’s debt service alone exceeds $1 billion,” Farmer said Wednesday. “This bill makes no provision as to how this debt service will be met. Local government entities shall recover the assets and liabilities of any special district that is dissolved.”

Still, the bill passed the Florida Senate on Wednesday by a 23-16 vote and the House on Thursday by a 70-38 vote. It now goes to DeSantis’ office for his signature. Thursday’s vote passed without a final debate and came as several black Democratic members staged a protest against the redistricting map of Congress.

For his part, Foglesong said the length of the bill indicated there “hasn’t been a lot of study and thought” about the implications of the decision.

“Someone is still going to have to pay for the bonds that were bought to build this infrastructure. Lots of roads. Someone is going to have to do these building inspections. It will take a lot of these inspectors with a lot of expertise,” he said. – he said. “Someone is going to have to pay for this. If that burden falls on the taxpayers, it’s not going to look good for Governor Desantis. It’s going to look like madness.”

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