Disney Says Florida Can’t Dissolve Theme Park’s Special Tax Status

ORLANDO (CBS)

The row between Ron DeSantis and Florida’s largest private employer now centers on whether the state can legally dissolve the special tax district that governs Walt Disney World, as the governor and local lawmakers did last week. last.

The fight began after DeSantis signed a controversial bill last month banning schools from instructing children in kindergarten through third grade about issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Disney CEO Bob Chapek initially tried to stay out of heated public debate over the measure, derided by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. But with growing pressure from within the company to oppose the measure, he eventually spoke out publicly against the measure at his company’s annual meeting of shareholders in March.

The Republican governor responded by seeking to tarnish Disney as “woke” and moved to end the special status that allows the resort to operate effectively as its own municipal government on the 39-square-mile property it owns, called Reedy Creek. Improvement District.

Making its only public statement since the Republican governor and lawmakers directed their anger at Disney, the company expressed confidence to investors this week that the state could not legally cancel its 55-year agreement as long as the bond debt of the Reedy Creek District was not reimbursed. .

As a result, the attempt to dissolve the special tax district in Orange and Osceola counties would breach an agreement Florida made when the district was created in 1967, the company said.

Posted on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s website on April 21, Disney said, “In light of the State of Florida’s commitment to bondholders in the district, Reedy Creek plans to explore its options while continuing its current operations, including collecting and collecting its ad valorem tax obligations and utility revenue obligations, complying with its covenants and operating and maintaining its properties.

Florida is contractually obligated not to get involved in the district until the bond debt is repaid, said Jacob Schumer, a city attorney in Maitland, Fla., of the law firm Shepard, Smith, Kohlmyer & Hand, at CBS MoneyWatch.

“The task of dissolving a special district and dividing its responsibilities between two counties is enormous,” he said.

Disney did not respond to a request for comment. The resort employs around 80,000 people, which includes several theme parks, hotels and its own fleet of buses.

The political hubbub is likely to continue, with DeSantis signaling that he’s ready to continue the fight with Disney.

“The Governor’s team is working to administer this legislation which aims to level the playing field for businesses in Florida. When we have more to share on our way forward, we’ll be happy to send it. As the Governor has always stated, Floridians will not have to carry the burdens of Disney,” a spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in an email.


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