The GOP-led Florida Senate voted Wednesday to dissolve the independent special district set up decades ago to allow Disney World the power to self-govern its property.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said early this month he was "receptive" to discussions around changing the law and amended his call for a special session in Tallahassee this week to reconsider the creation of "independent special districts."
Currently, Reedy Creek Improvement District runs as its own government, providing fire protection, emergency, utility, and planning services for the property around Disney World.
In his updated proclamation, the governor said that the Florida Constitution "prohibits special laws granting privileges to private corporations ... it is necessary to review such independent special districts to ensure that they are appropriately serving the public interest."
The Florida Senate voted 23-16 to pass the bill that would abolish Reedy Creek. The measure now goes to the Florida House for consideration.
According to the wording of SB 4-C, any independent special district established prior to Nov. 5, 1968, will be dissolved effective June 1, 2023, if it is passed into law.
Renewed interest in Reedy Creek was piqued by Disney's response to the "Parental Rights in Education" bill, which the governor recently signed into law. Disney joined critics in dubbing the legislation the "Don't Say Gay" law, and vowed to work to get the law struck down or repealed.
“Florida’s HB 1157, also known at the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have been passed and should never have been signed into law,” the company said in a statement. “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that."
DeSantis said Disney's statement "crossed the line."
“For Disney to come out and put a statement and say that the bill should have never passed and that they are going to actively work to repeal it, I think one was fundamentally dishonest and but two, I think that crossed the line,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Tallahassee. “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.”
At the time, State Rep. Spencer Roach (R-North Fort Myers) tweeted that lawmakers had met twice to discuss repealing the 1967 state law that allowed Disney to establish Reedy Creek Improvement District.
In all, Florida has 1,844 special districts. The legislation introduced to enable dissolution of the special districts — HB 3-C and SB 4-C — specifically addresses “any independent special district established by a special act prior to the date of ratification of the Florida Constitution on November 5, 1968, and which was not reestablished, re-ratified, or otherwise reconstituted by a special act or general law after November 5, 1968.”
Only 133 of Florida’s special districts were created by special acts before Nov. 5, 1968. Among those districts, in addition to Reedy Creek, are the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, the Daytona Beach Racing and Recreational Facilities District and the Canaveral Port District in Central Florida, as well as the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, Tampa Port Authority, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, the Tampa Sports Authority and several downtown development authorities throughout the state.
Of those 133 districts, only six — including Reedy Creek — would be directly affected by the bill, according to a bill analysis and fiscal impact statement prepared for the Florida Senate.
Those independent special districts include:
- Bradford County Development Authority
- Sunshine Water Control District (Broward County)
- Eastpoint Water and Sewer District (Frankin County)
- Hamilton County Development Authority
- Marion County Law Library
The House Bill was submitted by Rep. Randy Fine (R-District 53). Fine, who is from unincorporated Brevard County, on Twitter called Disney "a guest in Florida."
BREAKING: Disney is a guest in Florida. Today, we remind them. @GovDeSantis just expanded the Special Session so I could file HB3C which eliminates Reedy Creek Improvement District, a 50 yr-old special statute that makes Disney to exempt from laws faced by regular Floridians.— Rep. Randy Fine (@VoteRandyFine) April 19, 2022
The Senate Bill was submitted by Sen. Jennifer Bradley (R-District 5). Bradley’s district office is in Orange Park and the district includes Marion County and mostly rural Levy, Gilchrist, Dixie, Clay, Union, Bradford, Baker, Columbia, Suwanee and Lafayette counties in the northern part of the state.
Rep. Andrew Learned (D-District 59), who represents part of Hilisborough County and lives in Brandon, came out against the proposed legislative changes.
BREAKING: Governor DeSantis is seeking to turn today's Special Legislative Session into a full-scale attack on Walt Disney World and Mickey Mouse. This isn't a joke, this is 2022 and the modern Republican Party.— Rep. Andrew Learned (@AndrewLearned) April 19, 2022
Former Florida House member Dick Batchelor said, though, that dissolving Reedy Creek would be complicated and, in general, a bad idea.
“There’s no legal reason to challenge Reedy Creek Improvement District," the Orlando Democrat said. "There is only a political reason and not a very good one — to say to Disney, 'While you oppose me on a public policy, I will now try to be punitive and punish you.'"
Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph took to Twitter to explain how dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District would affect tax payers.
"If Reedy Creek goes away, the $105 million it collects to operate services goes away," he said in a tweet Wednesday. "That doesn't just transfer to Orange County because it's an independent taxing district.
"However, Orange County then inherits all debt and obligations with no extra funds."
IF Reedy Creek goes away, the $105 million it collects to operate services goes away. That doesn’t just transfer to Orange County because it’s an independent taxing district. However, Orange County then inherits all debt and obligations with no extra funds.— Scott Randolph (@ElectRandolph) April 20, 2022
Speaking with Spectrum News, Randolph said the only way the county could deal with those added expenditures would be to raise property taxes. He estimated the county portion of residents’ property tax bills to go up 15-20%.
He said the company’s bond obligations would be transferred forward as well, which state Rep. Randy Fine estimates at about $1.1 billion.
“Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney’s not popping champagne in the backroom somewhere,” Randolph said. “I’m not so sure how this punishes Disney.”
Spectrum News has reached out to the governor's office, Disney and Reedy Creek Improvement District for comment.
Other issues to be considered during the special session this week include redistricting of congressional maps and a measure that would address what it calls “arbitrary censorship by social media platforms” and remove theme parks from a social media law signed by DeSantis in 2021.
Spectrum News 13 reporter Rebecca Turco contributed to this story.