LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at Reedy Creek Fire Station #4 Monday morning, officially ending the Walt Disney Company’s quasi-governmental status.
The governor said he was there to end the “Corporate Kingdom,” and signed the recently passed bill to take over the Reedy Creek Improvement District into law, officially ending the tax status and for Disney in the area around Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom.
DeSantis’ office announced he had received the bill from the legislature to take over RCID shortly before the event’s start. The legislation, House Bill 9B, was passed by the legislature on partisan lines during the February special session.
Referring to the inciting incident for the legislation, Disney’s opposition to Florida’s House Bill 1557, DeSantis said that was only one of the motivating factors for the takeover.
“We had this situation here, that was basically indefensible from a policy perspective,” DeSantis said. “How do you give one theme park its own government, and then treat all the other theme parks differently? We believe that was not good policy, we believe being joined at the hip with this one California-based company was not justifiable or sustainable. So we said we were going to do something about it.”
DeSantis said now, Disney would be treated the same as other parks like Sea World, and “officially end the self-governing status in Central Florida, for Disney.” He said the signature on the bill would also remove exemptions for Disney pertaining to building code, permitting rules, and state regulatory reviews and create more transparency.
“It will prevent local governments dominated by leftist politicians from raising local taxes,” DeSantis said, referring to the statements of leaders in Orange County who expected the end of RCID to move the tax burden to local voters instead. DeSantis said he would not allow that to happen. He criticized media for reporting on that possibility.
“I was not going to put taxpayers at risk,” DeSantis said. “I did not trust them to handle this at this point,” referring to local governing bodies. “It’s under state control, not local control. They may be able to negotiate something in the future, but right now, there will not be any additional tax burden on any Floridian in Central Florida or otherwise.”
The governor said the municipal debts would be paid by Disney and that it was an example of standing up for Floridians. Despite the fears of some, DeSantis said he was confident the moves going forward would be in the best interest of the state and its residents.
The bill creates a state-run board to take over RCID and dissolve the special governing and tax status currently used by the Walt Disney Company. The appointees of that board will be selected by the governor. He said he would appoint the members later Monday.
The members were expected to be Martin Garcia, of Tampa, as chair of the board for the to-be renamed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Bridget Ziegler from the Sarasota County School Board, Mike Sasso, Ron Peri, and Brian Aungst of Pinellas County. DeSantis said they would hold their first board meeting on March 8.
The bill gives RCID two years to phase out its processes of doing business under the Reedy Creek name, in order for the newly reformatted entity to change records, contracts, bonds, accounts, physical assets, and other relevant items without impeding its functional requirements.
In previous comments, the Walt Disney Company said they would work with the state under the new system. Among topics decried by speakers, Disney content such as the Proud Family, its opposition to HB 1557, and its creation of content for making children into “activists” were described by one speaker as “tools in the Marxist tool box,” in addition to criticism for Disney’s COVID-19 policies for staff and guests.
After the speakers and stakeholders discussed the plans for the RCID going forward, including longtime Disney cast members, DeSantis returned to the podium, saying corporations were building “narratives” and “colluding” to shift public policy, saying he was happy that Florida had “fought back and led the way back to sanity.”
Then he signed HB 9B into law, telling the crowd they could “check their watch and see the time when the Corporate Kingdom came to an end,” before remind the crowd that he had a book coming out soon.
Answering questions, DeSantis said Disney had not been paying its fair share of taxes and that the takeover legislation would ensure the company did, as well as ending “decades of subsidies.”
Responding to another question, DeSantis said the idea that improving communities by not prosecuting people by state attorneys, such as in Orlando, did not work, referring to recent violence and saying that judges need to hold people accountable.
As far as the new board for control of the area that was Reedy Creek, DeSantis said the members were chosen based on business skills and the associated tax and commerce issues that would need handling, as well as people with experience local governance and processes.
“We also have people that very much want to see Disney be what Walt envisioned,” DeSantis said. “Which is what we all wanted to do. Honestly, in spite of all of the stuff that’s happened over the last couple of years, we have always been very proud of our parks.”
The governor described visiting theme parks in Florida was “almost a right of passage” and that a lot of families had had great experiences, “but when you lose your way, you’ve gotta have people that are going to tell you the truth.”
DeSantis said the board members he’d chosen would prioritize the type of entertainment that families would want to see. After giving a commentary on some of his previously announced legislative proposals, DeSantis ended the event.