DeSantis says he will call special session on Disney’s Reedy Creek, other issues

The state will take over Disney’s special district, he said.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District Administration Building in Lake Buena Vista is seen in 2022.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District Administration Building in Lake Buena Vista is seen in 2022. [ RICARDO RAMIREZ BUXEDA | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Feb. 2|Updated Feb. 23

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis said lawmakers will return to Tallahassee as soon as next week to continue his fight against The Walt Disney Co. after it opposed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education legislation last year, called the “don’t say gay” law by critics.

During a news conference Thursday, DeSantis said lawmakers will get rid of Disney’s control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special taxing district legislators gave to Disney in 1967.

Although lawmakers hastily passed a bill last year dissolving Reedy Creek and five other special districts, it left critical issues unresolved and does not take effect until June 1 this year.

DeSantis said they would move sooner than that.

“I think they’re going to do a special session in a week or two, I think maybe next week, about a whole bunch of different things that need to be taken care of,” DeSantis said Thursday. “Including making sure that Disney doesn’t have self-governing status anymore.”

Related: Florida special tax districts like Disney’s Reedy Creek, explained

It wasn’t clear what other issues the Legislature would address, although lawmakers could weigh a proposal to allow people to carry concealed firearms without a permit and without training.

DeSantis moved quickly to retaliate against Disney last year after it called for the repeal of the bill that prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades kindergarten through third grade.

DeSantis called the company “woke.” Since then, Disney has replaced its CEO with Bob Iger, who said during a town hall last year that he was “sorry to see us dragged into that battle.”

Although there were reports last year that DeSantis was reversing course on Reedy Creek, that doesn’t appear to be the case. On Wednesday, he said the state would take over the district.

“We’re not going to have a corporation controlling its own government,” DeSantis said. “So the state’s going to have a board to run it. So Disney will not have self-governing status anymore.”

He said he’d prefer that a local government take it over, “but I don’t think that they’re prepared for it.” His spokesperson told the Orlando Sentinel this week that a state board would ensure that Orange County wouldn’t raise taxes on residents of the district to pay off Reedy Creek’s $1 billion in bond debt — one of the many loose ends that lawmakers left unresolved last year.

Reedy Creek, which serves as the governing body for the Walt Disney World Resort, told its investors last year that it would continue to operate as usual because the Legislature’s repeal broke the law by violating the “pledge” the state made to the company when it created the district.

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The district comprises 39 square miles, two cities and land in Orange and Osceola counties and allows the company to act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.

The company chooses the five members of the district’s governing board, which can create its own fire department, seize land via eminent domain and even has the state’s permission to build a nuclear power plant.