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From a Floridian: Perspective on ‘Disney vs DeSantis’

Dear Readers,

There is a lot of noise buzzing right now about Florida’s State Government’s decision to terminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), which hosts the Walt Disney World Resort and was controlled by–and created for–The Walt Disney Company. Make no mistake, this is a very serious and historic moment in both the history of Disney and the State of Florida, but shouts from every political side are using this opportunity to antagonize one side over the other, leaving a lot of questions in the air.

As a life-long Floridian, Disney World Annual Passholder, and Disney Stockholder, I felt it prudent to speak candidly on the issue. While there are a LOT of questions that remain unanswered, there are a few things I can make clear right now.

1. Disney Chose the Wrong Time to Pick a Fight with Florida

Ron DeSantis

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signing a bill. Credit: WFLA

It must be made clear that RCID’s termination IS NOT a personal political hit taken up by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

The fact of the matter is that Gov. DeSantis had been planning for some time to meet with both houses of Congress to approve a general overhaul of the Sunshine State’s voting districts. It was in the relative lead-up to this special session that Disney decided to overtly announce its intention to use corporate influence and financing to overturn the new Florida legislation known as the Parental Rights in Education law.

Upon hearing this statement, DeSantis came forward declaring that Disney “crossed the line,” making it clear that the Disney executives in Burbank, California “do not control this state.”

But even after this statement, it needs to be understood that DeSantis was not the one pushing for the end of the RCID. It was other Florida lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives who brought legislation forward that would expand the current redistricting business to include the termination of RCID and other special districts. DeSantis then announced that he would extend the special session so the additional legislation could be heard. He gave the floor to other passionate lawmakers who represent the men and women of Florida. They passed the bill, and he supported their decision.

2. Disney’s Special District will not Die until June 2023

Reedy Creek Improvement District Map

Credit:oppaga.fl.gov

Once the legislation is signed by Gov. DeSantis, Disney will not start losing its special privileges until the Summer of 2023. That gives Disney, Tallahassee, Osceola County, and Orange County over a year to work together to get all necessary affairs in order.

Governor DeSantis addressed the concerns right away, saying,

“They (Reedy Creek) do have services, utilities. We’re going to take care of that. Don’t worry. We have everything all thought out. Don’t let anyone tell you that Disney is going to get a tax cut out of this. They are going to pay more taxes because of this.”

Appraisers from both counties will be assessing the new properties they are absorbing, and more news will be coming to light as to how much Disney will have to pay in county taxes and what the fate of their state-or-the-art utilities will be.

In the meantime, it is unlikely that anything drastic will change at Disney World. Projects already in motion should be expected to continue, especially attractions like TRON: Lightcycle Power Run.

3. Disney’s District Can Apply for Re-Establishment

Reedy Creek Improvement District

Credit: rcid.org

Over the course of the next year, the current legislation does allow for RCID’s possibility of renegotiating and re-establishing itself.

And Tallahassee’s press release on the matter states, “In the near future, we will propose additional legislation to authorize additional special districts in a manner that ensures transparency and an even playing field under the law.”

It is more than likely another Disney Special District will exist in Florida. However, DeSantis and his government are proving that Disney does not control this State, and the Mouse House is actually at risk of actually paying an exorbitant amount of taxes.

4. Disney is Still Going to Pay Hundreds of Millions in Taxes

Disney World Map

Credit: Disney

There is no way Disney skips out on millions of dollars of taxes. The company is just going to be taxed by someone else.

The RCID was set up to build budgets based on the resident taxpayers. There was just one problem. EPCOT–the living community–was never built. The “cities” or Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista exist essentially in name only with the minimal number of “residents” listed. The Walt Disney Company is the largest taxpayer by far. Due to that and an array of other orbiting situations, the RDIC is–was–arguably a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Co.

Those roads you drive on to get from the blue and gold archway to your Resort Hotel? Disney paid for those. The drainage systems and waste management systems? Disney paid for those too. Fire Department, Police Department, permit filing, power, you name it. And Disney continues to pay to maintain the situation needed to keep Walt Disney World the way it is. (By the way, school taught me this was called “crony capitalism,” but I digress.)

Now, Disney owns ~27,000 square miles of land in Central Florida, but most of Walt Disney World’s developed area is within the boundaries of Orange County. Disney is still going to pay for them.

Disney World’s tax situation was essentially manipulated by the Walt Disney Company around how it saw to develop RCID. Those property taxes are now going to be funneled into Orange and Osceola counties.

According to the Orange County Tax Collector’s website:

The Board of County Commissioners, School Board, City Commissioners and other tax levying bodies set the millage rate, which is the rate of tax per one thousand dollars of taxable value. Non-Ad Valorem assessments, such as streetlights, sewage and road improvements are levied on a unit basis rather than the value of property.

Disney World Property will be properly assessed and taxed based on its own value. The Walt Disney Company will lose control over how much it can tax itself. More tax money will be flooded into the surrounding area. Disney is now even more so at the mercy of taxpayers.

Personally, I’d also bet lawmakers find a way to label Reedy Creek’s utilities as private Disney property and further tax Disney for it.

5. Florida Did the Right Thing

Florida Flag

Related: DeSantis Strikes Twice: Signed Bill Could Prohibit ‘Reimagine Tomorrow’ at Disney World

This is a culture war where the citizens of Florida and its elected government are fighting against a massive California Corporation. Disney did not just disagree with Florida’s recognition of Parents’ rights over the education of their children. It declared an active campaign to use its corporate influence to revoke that right-recognizing legislation.

Why would the Sunshine State–or any state for that matter–continue to grant special treatment to such an aggressively undermining company?

If we should be mad at anyone, it is The Walt Disney Company for becoming so out of touch with the people and pushing their “far-left” agenda against all reasonable and economic logic.

Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District should forever be regarded as an architectural and entrepreneurial marvel. The fact that two men–Walt and his brother Roy–were able to make it a reality and turn it into one of if not the greatest examples of how private business could execute one of the greatest urban development projects in the world.

While other fans stayed in love with the movies and stories, I stayed in love with Disney’s business growth, and I still admire how it was able to do what it did.

But this company needs to be reeled back in and returned to what it once was—no more politics. If the board doesn’t listen to stockholders, parents, and Annual Passholders, then, hopefully, the loss of Reedy Creek and the massive downfall of its stock price will start to get their attention.

Disclaimer: This article includes opinions of the writer that may not represent the sentiments of Disney Fanatic as a whole.

About T.K. Bosacki

TK is a writer and editor based in Tampa, FL with a passion for all things Disney, and adventure.