Florida Governor Ron DeSantis takes control of Disney’s district

(Featured photo provided by Wilfredo Lee/Copyright 2023 The AP)

Just this Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that would bring control of Disney’s self-governing district under the control of the state.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) had been under Disney’s control ever since 1967 when the Reedy Creek Improvement Act was passed. The act was pushed for by Walt Disney himself after he saw the success of his first park in California. He wanted to establish a resort on the East Coast of the United States (U.S.). However, he felt like his visions for the resort would be better carried out if he had more independence in the form of his own specialized government. 

The act was found to not violate any provisions in Florida’s constitution and was passed, giving Disney the same responsibilities and authority as a county government. The company now had its own police and fire departments, as well as autonomy over zoning and other functions. Disney also had the responsibility to tax itself, and it taxed around $53 million per year to pay off various debts from the development of Orlando park.

In total, the RCID covers about 27,000 acres of land and contains Disney World. In between the Orange and Osceola counties, the area was once a very rural and undeveloped area, however, it received all sorts of modern amenities such as water, electricity, and others thanks to the Disney corporation. Disney World also employs over 75,000 workers, making it the largest employer in Central Florida.

However, with this new bill, DeSantis will shut down all of the special privileges that Disney has.”The corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” said DeSantis on Monday at a news conference. Now, a five-person state board, handpicked by DeSantis himself, will take charge of all of the municipal services Disney once oversaw, such as road maintenance. The board will also be able to raise revenue to pay off Disney’s debts. Among the members include Bridget Ziegler, the wife of the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida Christian Ziegler, as well as a Sarasota County School Board member; and Martin Garcia, a lawyer from Tampa whose investment firm donated $50,000 for DeSantis’ reelection campaign.

This move against Disney comes just one year after the company had spoken out against DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education bill. Under the bill, which has been nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, education about gender identity and sexual orientation is prohibited from being taught to grades kindergarten through third. The bill has drawn much criticism from many pro-LGBTQ+ rights groups, and U.S. President Joe Biden also called it “hateful”.

Then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek was initially hesitant but eventually called the governor himself to say that he was against this bill and would suspend all further political donations in Florida. At this point, the relationship between the Florida government and Disney had already been declining, as the company was stricter in reducing the spread of COVID-19 than the state, and it had also been making changes in its parks to promote inclusivity, which many conservatives didn’t like. However, it was only after Chapek had called DeSantis to voice his appeal for the repeal of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill did DeSantis say the corporation had “crossed the line” and that he would soon begin working on his retaliation.

“Allowing a corporation to control its own government is bad policy, especially when the corporation makes decisions that impact an entire region,” said DeSantis on a special ceremony celebrating the end of Disney’s special status on Monday.

Disney has stated that it will not resist the government takeover.





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