DeSantis targeting Disney board deal with forthcoming legislation

Speaking at a press conference Monday, DeSantis said the legislature would unveil as soon as next week a measure to void a Disney development agreement.
FILE — Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis takes to the stage to debate his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Oct. 24, 2022. (Crystal Vander Weit/ via AP, Pool, File)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is hitting back again in his feud with the Walt Disney Co.

Speaking at a press conference Monday, DeSantis said the Florida legislature would unveil as soon as next week a measure to void a development agreement enacted by Disney, which neutered a board that was established at DeSantis’s behest to rein in Disney’s power to govern itself.

DeSantis also threatened to raise property taxes and suggested his board could possibly build a Disney-adjacent prison.

“We made the decision as a state, as a people, through the medium of our elections, that we would not have one corporation serving as its own government,” DeSantis said. “That’s not good government. And it’s not something that we want to entertain in Florida any longer and whatever rationale there was 60 years ago.”

The escalating friction resulted from the company criticizing DeSantis’s Parents’ Bill of Rights law, which bans kindergarten to 3rd grade instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida public schools. DeSantis has also been critical of Disney and other companies for being outspoken in support of tackling climate change and other social issues.

In February, DeSantis signed legislation that dissolved a governmental entity, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, established in 1967, essentially allowing Disney to govern itself. DeSantis’s law created a new governing body with personnel that he picked and renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

But Disney enacted an agreement with Reedy Creek undercutting the new board’s authority the day before DeSantis’s new district went into effect. The deal transferred Reedy Creek’s powers to Disney “until twenty one years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III.

DeSantis contends the Disney deal broke Florida law and the legislature, which is led by Republicans and has backed DeSantis in his Disney fight, will advance legislation to invalidate the deal.

“I’ve worked with both leaders of the House and Senate,” DeSantis said. “There is a bill that will be put out in the Florida legislature that will make sure that the agreements purported to be entered into by Disney are revoked and the people’s will is established and is upheld.”

Before the legislature acts, DeSantis’s new board will seek to quash Disney’s deal. The board is scheduled to meet Wednesday.

DeSantis also said to look for his board to assert its authority in other ways, including raising property taxes or, perhaps, building a prison on land it owns near the Disney properties.

The Florida governor said it is unclear what the property controlled by the district and Disney is worth since Disney has been able to make its own assessment. A higher valuation could help pay down the outstanding debt issued by Reedy Creek.

“I mean, imagine you could appraise your own property,” DeSantis said. “Would you appraise it too high or too low? Of course, you’re going to do it … lower, in terms of the taxes.”

Part of the pushback against DeSantis for trying to kill the Disney-controlled Reedy Creek board was the debt. Abolishing it outright would have foisted the debt onto Orange County, where Disney and the district is located.

Local officials said that they would need to raise taxes to repay the debt. But DeSantis, who also said some of the new revenue could be used to increase the pay of local first responders, has said that he would not let that happen.

“We’re not gonna make people in Central Florida pay taxes for Disney’s debts,” he said, adding that Orange County officials might have just ceded back control to Disney.