DeSantis refutes ‘U-turn’ on Disney’s special district

Published: Dec. 3, 2022 at 8:35 AM EST
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A plan for Disney’s special taxing district is coming — and coming soon. But the governor’s office rejected new reports that it’ll be a “U-turn.” That’s after lawmakers voted to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District by mid-next year.

Reedy Creek gives Disney the ability to operate the area around its Orlando theme parks like a county government. The district preserves decades-old special privileges the company is currently on track to lose next year unless a new deal can be cut with lawmakers.

All of this started after Disney took issue with HB 1557 last session, a policy critics call the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

"A California company needs to respect Florida values if they want to do business there," state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, told us at the time.

Fine was among the Republicans who decided to look at the private company's autonomy through the special district, taking issue with Reedy Creek's power to carry debt, use eminent domain or build a nuclear power plant.

In April, the GOP majority passed a law dissolving the district by next June and gave Disney until then to cut a new deal.

New reporting from the Financial Times indicates lawmakers are considering a "U-turn," citing unnamed sources. The article said members are looking at minimal changes, prompting opponents to suggest this was all for show.

"The entire canceling of Reedy Creek and Disney was a political performance by Gov. Ron DeSantis," state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said. "Disney should hire him. He's such a good actor."

The governor's office has pushed back hard on talk of a "U-turn." Communications Director Taryn Fenske called it "fake news" in a tweet. Press Secretary Bryan Griffin said in a statement that DeSantis does not make "U-turns."

"The governor was right to champion removing the extraordinary benefit given to one company through the Reedy Creek Improvement District," Griffin said. "We will have an even playing field for businesses in Florida, and the state certainly owes no special favors to one company."

One of the biggest concerns about dissolving Reedy Creek is that it's nearly a billion in debt, which some have said could end up on taxpayers. DeSantis has consistently vowed that won't happen and striking a new deal could guarantee that.

Future House Speaker and current Rules Chair Rep. Danny Perez, R-Miami, said he hasn't heard anything beyond what the governor's office said Friday that "a plan is in the works" and coming "soon." He was still confident that the new "plan" for Reedy Creek would be substantive.

"The governor's firm in his stance, and we firmly support his position," he said.

Perez was also among several Republicans who felt Disney bringing back Bob Iger as CEO was a positive sign.

"There have been comments that have been made by the new CEO, where he essentially said that he wished Disney wasn't in the position that it currently is in with the state government," Perez said.

While there's a chance specific Disney details won't come to light until the regular session in March, we may find out more when lawmakers return for a special session on property insurance, which is now fewer than two weeks away.

We contacted Disney for comment on this story but have yet to hear back.

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