Disney: Florida cannot dissolve the special tax status of theme parks

Ron DeSantis' feud with Florida's largest private employer centers now on whether the state can legally dissolve Walt Disney World's special tax district, which was abolished by the governor. Local lawmakers also did this last week.

Muhammed Kayan
Muhammed Kayan
28 April 2022 Thursday 06:25
812 Reads
Disney: Florida cannot dissolve the special tax status of theme parks

After DeSantis signed a controversial bill that bars schools from teaching children in kindergarten through third grade about issues related to gender identity and sexual orientation, the sparring began. The Disney CEO Bob Chapek tried initially to avoid the heated public debate about the measure , referred to by critics the "Don’t say Gay” law. However, as the pressure grew from within the company to oppose it, he eventually spoke out against the measure during his annual shareholders meeting in March.

The Republican governor attempted to make Disney look "woke" and sought to end the special status which allows the resort to run its own municipal government on the 39-square-mile property, known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The company made its only public statement since the Republican governor directed his ire at Disney. This week, it expressed confidence to investors that they could legally cancel its 55-year agreement. However, the Reedy Creek district's bond obligations have not been paid.

The company indicated that the proposal to dissolve the Osceola and Orange counties special tax districts would violate an agreement Florida made in 1967 when the district was created.

On the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board's website, Disney posted the following: "In light the state's promise to the district's bondsholders, Reedy Creek anticipates to explore its options while maintaining its current operations, including levying, collecting its ad valorem taxes bonds and utility revenue bonds. It will also comply with its bond covenants. It will also operate and maintain its properties."

Florida is contractually bound not to become involved with the district after the bond debt has been paid, Jacob Schumer, a municipal lawyer with Shepard, Smith, Kohlmyer & Hand, explained to CBS MoneyWatch.

He said, "The task to dissolve a special district and divide its responsibilities among two counties is enormous."

Disney has not responded to our request for comment. It employs approximately 80,000 people in its resort which includes multiple theme parks and hotels as well as its own bus fleet.

Political turmoil is expected to continue with DeSantis signaling his willingness to fight Disney.

"The governor's office is currently working to administer this legislation, which is intended to level the playing fields for Florida businesses. We will send more information as we learn more about our journey forward. According to a spokesperson for CBS MoneyWatch, Floridians won't have to bear Disney's burdens as the governor has repeatedly stated." A CBS MoneyWatch spokesperson said in an email that a spokesperson informed CBS MoneyWatch via email.

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