How Disney became a self-governing kingdom in Florida that Ron DeSantis and state Republicans now want to unravel
Disney Worldexists in its own special taxing and governance district like a county government.
- The Reedy Creek Improvement District landowners, primarily Walt Disney World, pay for their own municipal services.
For more than 50 years, Walt Disney World has had its own magic for running its kingdom – a special taxing and governance district that operates much like a county government.
The Florida state legislature in 1967 created the Reedy Creek Improvement District whose landowners, primarily Walt Disney World, would pay for its municipal services at a time when the nearest power and water lines were up to 15 miles away. The charter even allowed the District to build its own nuclear power plant if it wanted.
"Disney is a guest in Florida," state Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican who sponsored legislation to terminate the District, told Insider. "They're a California company that clearly has California values. And they come to this state as our guest and they ask for special privileges that no other company in the state of Florida has, including their competitors.
"Universal doesn't get these. Legoland doesn't get these. SeaWorld doesn't get these. And then they want to disrespect the voters of the state on a bill that is overwhelmingly approved by every demographic, including Biden voters. Well, you know, when my kids ask for special privileges, they don't act like jerks," Fine added.
Florida Republican Gov.
Members of Reedy Creek's Board of Supervisors and a spokesperson for Disney did not respond to a request for comment.
The 25,000-acre District in both Orange and Osceola counties services 19 landowners, including Walt Disney Co and its wholly-owned affiliates.
When it formed, the counties didn't have the services or resources to support Disney's proposal to turn 38.5 square miles of mostly uninhabited pasture and swampland into a global destination resort, according to the District's website.
The 1967 legislation stipulated that the District landowners would be solely responsible for paying for power, water, roads, and fire protection. Local county taxpayers meanwhile wouldn't have to pay for building or maintaining those services, the website says.
If the District is terminated, the local taxpayers would get the revenue that Disney is paying to Reedy Creek and their tax bills would not increase, Fine said. "In fact, they could go down because there's probably duplicative government bureaucracy. We're eliminating a layer of government," he said.
The biggest change would be for how Disney does business, absent Reedy Creek and the ability to self-govern, Dirk Libbey, a self-described "amateur Disney historian," wrote for CinemaBlend. "This would mean that if Disney wanted to build another resort hotel or even a fifth gate, it would have to deal with a lot more government bureaucracy and pay a lot more in fees and taxes," Libbey wrote, adding that Disney could reduce or stop investing in Disney World.
To that prospect, Fine pointed to a Disney competitor: "Look, Universal seems to be able to figure it out."
Fine said that when Disney "kicked the hornet's nest," lawmakers looked at special districts and discovered that Reedy Creek was one of six that aren't in compliance with the state's 1968 Constitution. And he said some privileges in those districts don't make sense.
Along with the right to create its own nuclear power plant, he said Disney has the right to take land outside of their district. "So some of the things in there are just nuts and so it makes sense to take a look at them," he said.
Under Fine's legislation, Reedy Creek would be sunsetted by June 2023, unless the legislature reauthorizes it.
"I don't know that all that much changes except you basically don't have a self-governing company that no other company in Florida has," he said.
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