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Florida’s Revenge on Disney Could Cost Nearby Residents Billions

This here is the wildest ride in the wilderness!

And no, we’re not talking about Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. From the controversy surrounding Disney’s response to a new Florida legislation to the recent Cast Member walkout, Disney has faced a public relations roller coaster over the last few months.

And now, amid a political boycott of The Walt Disney Company, a Florida Senator has revealed that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ revenge plot against Disney will end up costing local residents billions of dollars.

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Credit: Disney Tips

The roller coaster launched from Disney’s response to a new controversial Florida legislation. Disney initially shied away from making a public statement regarding Florida’s new bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which many people believe targets the LGBTQ+ community and restricts conversations about gender and LGBTQ+ identities in schools.

Disney did release a statement in March about the Parental Rights in Education Bill (which passed in February), but focused on the company’s “content” and “culture”. Disney’s silence snowballed into a high-profile PR disaster that ultimately led to Disney finally releasing a statement claiming “Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law”.

But Disney’s stance on striking down the legislature has now caused a war with Florida’s governing body. Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista might be losing its special treatment after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis criticized Disney, saying, “They do not run this state. They do not control this state.”

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Credit: ABC

Florida legislators are working on getting rid of something that Walt Disney World has benefitted from for over 50 years. Conservative-leaning political figures are threatening to repeal the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act, and boycott Mickey Mouse himself. On Tuesday, April 19, the Florida state legislature held a special session to focus on redistricting, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis asking the legislature to consider terminating all special districts that were created in the state prior to 1968 – a very specific year.

The 1967 act allowed Disney to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the self-described purpose being “to support and administer certain aspects of the economic development and tourism within District boundaries.” The creation of the district meant that Walt Disney World and other landowners pay for local municipal services like water, electricity, fire protection, and emergency medical services instead of taxpayers.

For over 50 years, Walt Disney World has been able to reside in Florida unregulated, acting as its own “government” in a way. The act involved creating a special taxing district that acts with the same authority as a county government. Local taxpayers – residents of Orange and Osceola County – do not have to pay for building or maintaining Disney’s essential services.

And now, that could all change.

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Credit: Disney

Currently, when Disney World wants to improve on-property features like roads and street signs, hire police and medical staff, or fix electrical issues, it pays for it all itself. Should the state decide to repeal the Reedy Creek Improvement Act, Florida taxpayers would then be responsible for those costs.

State Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, a Democrat, warned on Tuesday, April 19, that residents of Orange County and Osceola County may have to assume Disney’s liabilities of anywhere between $1 billion and $2 billion if the Reedy Creek Improvement District is dissolved. Democrats in the state Senate thus proposed an amendment to DeSantis’ bill that would have required a study to be conducted about the potential impact of the proposed law, rather than ending the special status after a year, as the bill states. The amendment was defeated in a voice vote. Farmer noted:

“The debt service alone for Reedy Creek is over $1 billion. This bill makes no provision as to how that debt service is going to be assumed.”

The Democrat also highlighted another law that local government entities have to pick up the debt of special districts that are dissolved. The Reedy Creek Improvement District has a long-term bonded debt of $977,215,801, according to its 2021 annual financial report. Farmer estimated that “the debt service alone would amount to $580 per person. Family of four just got hit with a $2,200 tax bill.”

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Credit: Reedy Creek Fire Department

“It’s shoot first and ask questions later,” Farmer added. State Senator Jeff Brandes, a Republican, also shared similar views about the revenge plot, saying: “My concern is this bill essentially wipes away Disney’s $2 billion of debt. If the legislative intent here is ultimately to attack them, then why would we want to cancel $2 billion of debt?”

The Reedy Creek District covers one of the busiest areas in the United States, including 4 theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom), 2 water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), Disney Springs, 175 lane miles of roadway, 67 miles of waterway, the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista,  water, electrical, and waste management facilities, as well as over 40,000 hotel rooms and 100s of restaurants and retail stores.

Disney has approximately 80,000 theme park workers in Central Florida and a history of supporting the LGBTQ community, recently forcing the relocation of 2000 Cast Members from California to Florida, so it will be interesting to see how repealing this tax act would affect Walt Disney World’s operations and the local area’s economy.

Disney has not yet made a statement about Governor DeSantis’ comments or the potential repeal of the Reedy Creek Improvement Act.

About Melissa Cannioto

Melissa is an author, adventurer, and chatterbox, who loves to enjoy Disney's theme parks with a Mickey Premium Bar in hand! A British native, she has traveled the world seeking new experiences, and now resides in Florida with her Air Force pilot husband. Find her children's book at @thebearandthehug_book