Daily Column – 22nd April 2022

Disney’s capacity to effectively self-govern its theme park has been revoked by a statute passed by Florida’s GOP-controlled legislature. The law will now be sent to Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk, where he is likely to approve it, effectively ending Florida and Disney’s long-standing Timon and Pumbaa bond.

The decision is largely perceived as payback for Disney’s criticism of a Florida legislation that prohibits discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in some classrooms, given that there was little political controversy around Disney World’s special tax status until recently.

After receiving backlash from employees for declining to issue a statement, Disney reversed course. It denounced the bill, put a halt to political payments to Florida legislators, and promised to work to repeal it.

Republicans said that dissolving Disney’s district was not motivated by vengeance. “When Disney kicked the hornet’s nest, we looked at special districts,” GOP Rep. Randy Fine told CNBC.

So, how significant is this?

It’s not a little thing. For the past 55 years, Disney has run the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special administrative zone. Disney is authorised to build new structures without local consent and is free from certain environmental and wastewater standards under the agreement it reached with Florida.

Dissolving Reedy Creek would require local governments to assume responsibility for municipal services that were previously paid for by Disney, such as multibillion-dollar road upgrades. It also means that taxpayers would be responsible for a $1 billion debt on Reedy Creek’s books.

Jerry L. Demings, the Democratic mayor of Orange County, where Reedy Creek is largely located, told Bloomberg that the legislature has not “sufficiently examined the repercussions.”

However, the situation is far from over. Experts predict that it will encounter legal challenges and will most likely wind up in court. According to CNBC, David Ramba, executive director of the Florida Association of Special Districts, he hasn’t seen any special districts that didn’t want to be dissolved, let alone one run by a $222 billion business. The only thing he knows for sure is that “a lot of lawyers will get paid.”

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