Florida legislature revokes Disney’s special tax status

The Florida Legislature officially passed a bill ending Disney’s special tax status in the state. All it takes now is for Governor Ron DeSantis to sign it into law and since it was his idea in the first place, I think we consider it done effectively.

As a reminder, Disney operates as its own special tax district – essentially, it’s its own mini-government operating in an area called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. This setup benefits Disney immensely, but it also means that it’s Disney itself, and not the people of the counties that technically house the parks, who pay for things like emergency services, infrastructure, treatment of water and sewage, etc.

While DeSantis and other Florida Republicans have ostensibly pushed through this bill as a way to retaliate against Disney’s (reluctant but potential) criticism of so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, banning essentially up to educators to mention LGBTQ+ issues in schools, the people who will end up paying the real price here are the taxpayers of Florida, who have had no say in this massive change. The move will likely cost Floridians more than $1 billion in municipal debt.

As Orlando journalist Nick Papantonis puts it in an excellent thread breaking down the effects of this change, “The biggest loss for Disney is the end of this control. It’s much easier to ask permission than to go. Even though they already follow all the laws and all the building codes and they will always get everything they want, it will slow down the process.

Yes, it’s embarrassing for Disney, but the effects of this change are wildly uneven. “The biggest problem for everyone else is tax revenue. Disney already pays the same local property taxes as all other property owners. Reedy Creek added its own tax on top to pay for its projects. This tax — $163 million a year — is illegal outside the district,” Papantonis explains.

The surrounding counties – Orange and Osceola – will now be responsible for Disney’s services as well as its debt. “They can’t raise sales taxes or affect fees. So counties will have to raise property taxes,” Papantonis writes. “They have to tax every property the same – not just Disney – and therefore property taxes in Orange County are expected to increase by up to 25% next June.”

the Washington Post writing on the chaos it causes:

“People are certainly worried. This is going to be a major disruptor in our community, and no one has had a chance to find out exactly what this will look like,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani (D), whose district includes parts of Orange County, where most Disney property in Florida is located. “Everything about this reflects the fact that we have a governor who is a tyrant who punishes those who oppose him.”

In short: Ron DeSantis doesn’t want kids to learn that gays and trans people exist; he got angry when the CEO of Disney was pushed to condemn this fact; and in retaliation, he potentially skyrockets his constituents’ taxes.

It’s worth noting that this law won’t come into effect until June 2023, which will hopefully still give lawmakers time to fix this mess. But for now, good luck, Ron. Surely you have owned these libraries at the expense of everyone else in your state.

(Image: Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

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