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Florida Republicans may run into serious legal issues — and a $1 billion hurdle — in their effort to revoke Disney World’s private government status due to a state “pledge” enacted 55 years ago, The Walt Disney Company alluded to investors last week after the GOP moved to penalize the company for opposing its controversial “Don’t Say Gay” legislation.
Disney sent a note to investors last week saying it believed it could operate business as usual, effectively self-governing its 25,000-acre theme park complex in what’s called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The zone was set up as a special district in 1967 to entice Disney to develop the site, saving it millions in annual fees and taxes but bringing some 50 million visitors to the Orlando area every year.
“The State of Florida pledges … that it will not limit or alter the rights of the District until all such bonds … are fully met and discharged,” Disney wrote in its letter, saying it expected to “explore its options while continuing its present operations.”
Regardless, Florida Republicans voted to dissolve that special status last week in what critics say is blatant retribution after Disney said it would work to overturn the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation.
A provision in state law, however, says legislators can’t do that unless the Reedy Creek district’s bond debt is paid off — a figure that may exceed $1 billion, according to legal experts. If the state still wants to move forward with the dissolution, it could result in hefty legal fees and theoretically require the counties that absorb the special district to also absorb its debt.
Scott Randolph, the Democratic tax collector of nearby Orange County, which could absorb part of that bond debt alongside Osceola County, has denounced the bill, saying it could result in an additional tax bill of between $2,200 to $2,800 per family of four.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has addressed some criticism, saying Disney would “under no circumstance” get out of paying its taxes or debts.
The posturing began last month after DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a decision that prompted Disney to pledge to fight the legislation. It was a notable statement from one of the state’s largest employers that came after the company drew fire for saying it would remain neutral as the bill worked its way through the statehouse.
“Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that,” the company said in a statement at the time. “We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
The shift in tone, however, prompted fury from DeSantis and other Republicans.
“I’m just not comfortable having that type of agenda get special treatment in my state,” the governor said last week. “I just can’t do it. “
Source: Huff Post