Florida legislature passed a bill, on Thursday, to dissolve special districts in the state, including Reedy Creek, which governs Walt Disney World, in retaliation for the company’s denouncement of the recently passed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law.
The new bill abolishing all special districts established before 1968 in the state was passed by a 70-38 vote in the House, after the Senate approved it on Wednesday.
The bill will next be taken up by Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into a law. It is to be noted that DeSantis had expanded the state’s special session to include measures aimed at punishing Disney.
The multimedia company denounced the controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, last month, following a lot of outcry over its previous silence, including a walkout staged by the employees protesting the company’s lack of action.
Officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, the legislation limits discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should have never been passed nor be signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that,” stated Disney, after the bill was passed as a law.
The step that Florida legislature’s has now taken to punish the media giant for its stand could put an end to one of the most profitable ventures for both Disney and the state.
What are special districts?
A special district in Florida is a unit of local government that is created for a special purpose and has the jurisdiction to operate within a limited geographic boundary.
While there are over 1800 special districts across Florida, only six of these will be affected by the new bill, which seeks to dissolve “any independent special district established by a special act prior to the date of ratification of the Florida Constitution on November 5, 1968.”
What is the Reedy Creek?
The Reedy Creek Improvement District, or RCID, governs the recreational space of Walt Disney World. Sprawling across 25000 acres of property in Central Florida, the resort sits in the Orange and Osceola counties.
“In 1967 the Florida State legislature, working with Walt Disney World Company, created a special taxing district – called the Reedy Creek Improvement District – that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government,” says RCID’s official website.
According to a CNN report, Reedy Creek was Walt Disney’s initiative towards establishing a self-governing space, after it had issues with the government of Anaheim, California, at its Disneyland park, that was completed a decade earlier.
The special district includes four theme parks, two water parks, one sports complex, 175 lane miles of roadway, 67 miles of waterway, and the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista.
How does Reedy Creek’s dissolution impact the people there?
Disney has been solely responsible for the costs of providing typical municipal services like power, water, roads, fire protection etc, in Reedy Creek and the residents of Orange and Osceola counties were exempted from paying for the same.
It is reported that if the bill gets passed into a law, this burden might get shifted back on the tax-paying residents of those counties, who might also have to take on the debts of Reedy Creek as well as ensure the maintenance of services.
“The debt service alone for Reedy Creek is over a billion dollars. This bill makes no provision as to how that debt service is going to be assumed. Local government entities must pick up assets and liabilities of any special district that is dissolved,” State Senator Gary Farmer told CNN.
The future of the taxpayers in Florida is still unclear, and Republican sponsors only suggested that the legislature could work through the logistics of the dissolution over the next year.
As per the bill, the special districts will be dissolved on June 1, 2023.