Gov. Ron DeSantis signs law to strip Walt Disney World of special designation

Walt Disney World has lost its special designation.

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Walt Disney World was created under the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which allowed the resort to operate essentially as its own government.

But on Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill dissolving the private government, WFTV reported.

DeSantis announced earlier this week that lawmakers would add the debate over special districts to the session that was intended to deal with congressional districting. He had targeted Disney after the company spoke out against the state’s Parental Rights in Education Law, more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The state Senate passed the bill Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The state House passed it Thursday.

The votes were a win for DeSantis who has been setting his sights on policies governing race, gender and the COVID-19 pandemic. His positions on these topics have made him into a popular GOP politician and a potential 2024 presidential candidate, The Associated Press reported.

Disney did not speak out for or against the “Don’t Say Gay” law until after the bill was passed, then the company said it would fight for the repeal in Florida and in other states if and when similar bills are passed, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The self-governed districts impacted are now set to be dissolved by June 2023, but the legislation is worded such that they could be reestablished in the future, WFTV reported.

Reedy Creek Improvement District was established because, according to the district’s website, at the time the closest power and water lines to what would become Walt Disney World were 10 to 15 miles away and neither Orange nor Osceola counties had the infrastructure needed to support the planned resort area.

The designation allows Disney to have its own electrical grid, emergency, fire and medical services on-site, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Reedy Creek Improvement District governs the four theme parks, two water parks, a sports complex, hotels, retail locations and restaurants, according to the newspaper.

Now that the designation has been repealed, governmental control of the property will revert back to the two counties, WFTV reported.

The change will have an impact on taxpayers. Orange and Osceola counties will assume all assets and liabilities of Reedy Creek. The counties will be paid taxes for the property, but will be responsible for infrastructure maintenance and the costs that come with it, WFTV reported.

The counties will also assume Reedy Creek’s debt, which could be as much as $1 billion. That cost will be transferred to taxpayers in the amounts of thousands of dollars per household, WFTV reported.

There is one caveat — the counties themselves can also set up special districts that could keep everything the same as it has been for more than 50 years, WFTV reported.

Disney could also take the state to court since special districts legally must be dissolved the same way they were created. Reedy Creek was not created in a special legislative session, WFTV reported.

Walt Disney World opened on Oct. 1, 1971, and is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary.