It’s been a tumultuous few weeks for the Walt Disney World Resort and Disney CEO Bob Chapek.
The Florida Resort (featuring the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme parks) has seen a highly-publicized political fallout with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that has led to a bill dissolving its Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Now, Ron DeSantis is being sued by his own taxpayers for his actions.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, taxpayers of the counties surrounding Walt Disney World filed a complaint in Florida federal court on Tuesday, May 3. The taxpayers claim that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis violated their rights when he signed a law dissolving Disney’s special tax district.
Residents argue they and other taxpayers will be stuck with at least a $1 billion bill if the state follows through with its plan to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Their goal is to block the Republicans’ law.
“It is without question that Defendant Governor DeSantis intended to punish Disney for a 1st Amendment protected ground of free speech,” reads the lawsuit. “Defendant’s violation of Disney’s 1st Amendment rights directly resulted in a violation of Plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment rights to due process of law.”
The move came after Disney claimed it was not worried about DeSantis’ bill. Disney noted in a statement that it was confident that the Legislature’s attempt to dissolve the Walt Disney World special taxing district was not legal. The result, Disney told its investors, is that it would continue to go about business as usual.
Questions have already been asked about whether or not the procedures used by the state’s Legislature to pass this bill were legal. According to a Florida statute, a majority of the Reedy Creek residents would have to vote in favor of dissolving the district. The move would also impact the residents of Orange County and Osceola County financially. Residents who sued DeSantis say dissolving Reedy Creek will likely lead to increased taxes for the residents of Central Florida to pay off Disney’s bond debt, estimated to be between $1 billion and $2 billion.
This lawsuit against the Florida Governor, therefore, comes as no surprise.
Since 1967, the Walt Disney World Resort has resided in Florida unregulated, basically acting as its own “government.” Local taxpayers – residents of Orange County and Osceola County – do not have to pay for building or maintaining Disney’s essential services.
After over 50 years, it looks like this is all ending due to Republican retaliation for Disney’s stance on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill. Disney CEO Bob Chapek initially shied away from making a public statement regarding Florida’s new bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which restricts conversations about gender and LGBTQ+ identities in schools. Disney’s statement against the bill caused a feud with Ron DeSantis, who set about dissolving Walt Disney World’s special bubble in Florida.
“Stripping Disney of this special district designation will move these major regulatory burdens unto the county, thereby increasing the Plaintiff’s taxes, and will cause significant injury to plaintiffs,” the complaint states. According to the lawsuit, the Florida Supreme Court has historically allowed affected residents to challenge “threatened wrongful proceedings.”
It claims that under Florida law, people and entities who aren’t technically parties to contracts can sue to enforce them when a breach can injure them. The complaint also argues Florida is violating Disney’s constitutional rights.
So far, the Mickey Mouse giant has remained pretty silent on its unprecedented fallout with the state of Florida. Disney and DeSantis’ office did not respond to requests for comment about the new lawsuit.