Disney World’s Self-Governing District Now Under State Control

28 days ago Los Angeles Magazine

Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday ending Disney’s self-governance of its special tax district and instead requires it to operate under state regulations

The Magic Kingdom may be a little less magical after conservative and combative Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill putting the special tax district created for Disney under state control, the end result of a culture war battle he engaged the company in and seems to have emerged victorous.

“Today the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” DeSantis said at a press conference held at the fire station of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. “There’s a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day.”

The Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney’s special tax haven, is sometimes called “the Vatican with mouse ears.” It will now be known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and as of today, Disney is required to operate under state regulations within this newly-named zone. Since the late 60s, the company had enjoyed a unique right to self-govern where it was allowed to set its own pace: It had its own fire and police departments, exemptions from many state and local rules regarding building codes and fees, plus handling of all zoning, utilities, and infrastructure.

Despite the change on Monday, the district’s debt obligations were left in place and DeSantis has said the bill wouldn’t cause an extra burden for Florida residents.

“Disney’s going to pay its fair share of taxes and Disney’s going to honor the debt and that’s exactly what this proposed piece of legislation will do,” he said.

A five-person state control board has now been appointed by DeSantis, who revealed the grouping of influential conservatives at Monday’s press conference. Martin Garcia, a Republican attorney from Tampa, will serve as chair, he announced, and the board will also include Bridget Ziegler, a member of Sarasota County School Board and an early founder of the conservative education group Moms for Liberty. She helped create the Parental Rights in Education Act, aka the “Don’t Say Gay bill,” and is married to the chairman of the Florida Republican Party.

Brian Aungst, Jr., a Clearwater attorney whose father was its mayor, Mike Sasso, a central Florida attorney previously appointed by DeSantis to the Public Employees Relations Commission, and Ron Peri, founder of the ministry The Gathering and a former airline software company CEO, will round out the new group Disney hawks. 

The taking of Reedy Creek represents the end of that culture war against Disney, created by DeSantis, who stoked the flames back in March after Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill following employee protests. That bill is now a law which prevents discussion of sexual identity in the classroom for children ages kindergarten through third grade.

As the battle of words between DeSantis and Disney heightened in 2022, he and other Republicans stumped for dissolving the area, which is just outside Orlando. However, the 38-square-mile district will remain in one piece. 

Disney is Florida’s largest employer. The company did not respond to a request for comment by LAMag on Monday.

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