ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday morning, officially ending Disney's self-governing status, and appointed the five members of the state board now in control of the Reedy Creek Improvement district.
“The corporate kingdom comes to an end,” DeSantis started off the press conference by saying. “There’s a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day.”
While speaking at a Reedy Creek fire station, DeSantis said one of the first things he would like the board to do is fairly compensate Reedy Creek first responders.
The people appointed to oversee the renamed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District are: Tampa resident Martin Garcia (chair of board), Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Zieger, Pinellas County resident Brian Aungst, Central Florida lawyer Mike Sasso, and businessman Ron Peri.
Rep. Anna Eskamani (District 42) responded to the signing of the bill with a statement saying, "As we've seen via the House Floor, from my Q&A, and from the bill itself Reedy Creek was not dissolved. All this bill does is rename Reedy Creek and allow Governor DeSantis to appoint hostile conservative cronies to a new board. Disney still maintains the same tax breaks - but their First Amendment rights have been suppressed, and it sends a message to any private individual or company that if you don't purport to what the Governor wants, then you'll be punished."
In eliminating Disney’s self-governing status, the legislation will prevent Disney from gaining more land by eminent domain, impose Florida law so Disney is no longer given preferential treatment and create an avenue to compel Disney to contribute to local infrastructure, the governor said.
That special status came under scrutiny amid a public feud between Disney and DeSantis after the company, under then-Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek, opposed the state’s Parental Rights in Education measure, which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The law bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and lessons deemed not age-appropriate.
DeSantis stated that "Disney’s ideologies" do not represent the values of Florida and that it was unfair to treat one company differently than others.
“Disney will be treated the same as SeaWorld and others like it,” he said.
The signing of the bill marks the end of a 55-year-old agreement between the state and the company.
Established in 1967, the special taxing district gave Disney control of services such as fire protection and utilities for the land around its Florida parks and resorts.
“Since the 1960s, they’ve [Disney] enjoyed privileges unlike any company or individual in the state of Florida has ever enjoyed. They, of course, control their own government right here in Central Florida. They had exemptions from laws that everybody else had to follow. And they were able to get huge amounts of benefits without paying their fair share of taxes and even racked up $700 million worth of municipal debt,” DeSantis said during Monday’s press conference.
DeSantis made it clear again that none of the district's debt will be passed on to Florida taxpayers. He said it will be paid for by Disney.
“This is what accountability looks like. This is what standing up for Florida taxpayers looks like,” he stated.
Eskamani continued her statement by saying, "If DeSantis actually wants to end the corporate kingdom then he should support policies like HB769/SB1144 that close corporate tax loopholes that companies like Disney exploit. But this was never about tax policy or corporate accountability - this was always about DeSantis and his sick agenda to target already marginalized people, and silent dissent."