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.
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.
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.
“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?
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.”
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.”