“On the Holmes Front,” with Frank Holmes
Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis will punish Disney over its public opposition to the state’s law banning instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity through third grade.
He convened a special session of the legislature to strip the company of its special status that essentially allows it to largely govern itself.
But experts say the move could also backfire – and ultimately cost taxpayers in central Florida billions.
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The dispute began when Disney came out against the law, which some Democrats dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The company called on the state legislature to overturn it, or for the courts to strike it down.
“We remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that,” Disney said last month.
That roiled DeSantis – a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate – who accused the company of caving to “woke” leftists, and called them “fundamentally dishonest.”
“This state is governed by the interests of the people of the state of Florida. It is not based on the demands of California corporate executives,” he said, and later urged the state legislature to end the company’s self-governing status in what’s known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Reedy Creek, which is controlled by Disney, essentially acts as a municipality. It taxes the company, and uses the money to fund services including building and repairing roads, fire, emergency, and more.
It also cuts a layer of red tape when the company plans construction and renovations in its parks and hotels.
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The district – one of the hundreds of special districts in the state – was created in part as an enticement to Disney, but also in part because municipal services simply didn’t exist at the time in the area when the company was planning its resort.
But now, that could come to an end. The Florida Senate passed a bill ending the status, sending it to the House.
It’s not clear if the plan will succeed — or if anyone even wants it to outside of the public posturing.
Orange County, for example, would have to absorb Reedy Creek’s debt and take on all of the responsibilities the district currently handles.
“If that district goes away, it is zero revenue, but they take on all the debt and all the obligation,” Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph told Click Orlando.
He estimated that Reedy Creek has between $1 billion and $2 billion in bond debt, and that it costs about $105 million a year to operate its services.
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“If Reedy Creek is dissolved, my guess would be Orange County would have to raise property taxes 15 to 20 percent,” he said.
Randolph was even blunter in an interview with Spectrum News.
“Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney’s not popping champagne in the backroom somewhere,” he said. “I’m not so sure how this punishes Disney.”
Florida Association of Special Districts leader David Ramba told WFTV that dissolving Reedy Creek would be more of an annoyance than any kind of threat to the company or its famous theme parks.
“It’s a lot easier for Walt Disney World to do that through Reedy Creek than it would be, say, Universal to do that through Orange County,” he said, referring to the competing theme parks just up the road from Disney.
Even longtime insiders aren’t sure what happens next.
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“If someone would have said in January when they were meeting for legislative session that the governor of the state of Florida would be declaring war on Walt Disney World I don’t think anyone would had that on their bingo card,” Former State Rep. Republican Bobby Olszewski told WFTV.
Frank Holmes is a reporter for The Horn News. He is a veteran journalist and an outspoken conservative that talks about the news that was in his weekly article, “On The Holmes Front.”