Florida lawmakers are anticipated to vote Thursday on a proposal to give Gov. Ron DeSantis new power over the state’s most iconic theme parks amid his ongoing feud with Disney.
Beneath a fast-tracked invoice that may very well be headed to the Republican governor’s desk by the tip of the week, the state would take over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the 55-year-old authorities physique that has successfully given Disney management over the land round its Orlando-area theme parks. The district’s current board, made up of people with shut ties to Disney, would get replaced by a five-member board hand-picked by DeSantis.
The state Home, the place Republicans maintain a supermajority, will take up the invoice Thursday with a vote by the state Senate doubtless throughout the subsequent 36 hours. If the measure passes the GOP-led legislature, it’s going to go to DeSantis for remaining approval. He’s anticipated to signal it.
“There’s a brand new sheriff on the town, and that’s simply the way in which it’s going to be,” DeSantis mentioned at Wednesday information convention.
The transfer to take over Reedy Creek is the most recent step in a yearlong spat between DeSantis and Disney over a invoice to limit sure classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identification. DeSantis signed the bill into law over the objections of Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek. Disney in a statement vowed to assist get the regulation repealed or struck down by the courts.
DeSantis responded to the menace by calling on lawmakers to strip Disney of its particular governing powers, which they did in a special session final yr, voting to dissolve the Reedy Creek Enchancment District on the finish of Might 2023.
Nevertheless, whereas DeSantis rapidly turned his takedown of Disney into fodder for stump speeches and fundraising emails, lawmakers on the time failed to handle what would come subsequent for the particular district. Neither DeSantis nor lawmakers outlined a plan to unwind a half-century of Disney management or for the way to make sure Orange and Osceola county residents wouldn’t be on the hook for funding Reedy Creek companies or its $1 billion in debt. Amid the fallout, Reedy Creek told its bondholders that Florida couldn’t dissolve the district with out assuming its money owed or it might violate the 1967 state regulation that created the district. Fitch Scores Group put Reedy Creek Enchancment District’s debt on look ahead to a damaging bond score.
The invoice launched this week in a particular session of the Florida legislature would maintain Reedy Creek alive, albeit beneath a brand new identify, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and with a DeSantis-aligned board in cost. The laws makes clear that the adjustments to Reedy Creek shouldn’t have an effect on the district’s current debt or contracts and would lengthen the lifetime of the district past June.
The ultimate web page of the 189-page invoice states: “The Reedy Creek Enchancment District just isn’t dissolved as of June 1, 2023, however continues in full drive and impact beneath its new identify.”
In an announcement to CNN earlier this week, Jeff Vahle, the president of Walt Disney World Resort, mentioned the corporate is “monitoring the development of the draft laws, which is complicated given the lengthy historical past of the Reedy Creek Enchancment District.”
“Disney works beneath plenty of totally different fashions and jurisdictions world wide, and whatever the consequence, we stay dedicated to offering the best high quality expertise for the thousands and thousands of visitors who go to annually,” Vahle mentioned.
Michael Rinaldi, the pinnacle of native authorities rankings at Fitch, mentioned the invoice “seems to handle key uncertainties created following final yr’s dissolution laws” and would doubtless resolve the damaging bond score watch.
The Reedy Creek particular district encompasses about 25,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties and consists of 4 theme parks, two water parks, one sports activities complicated, 175 lane miles of roadway, 67 miles of waterway and the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, its web site says. The association has allowed Disney to develop into a large mecca for family-friendly tourism and a main driver of Central Florida’s financial system, utilizing the district’s distinctive borrowing and taxing powers to construct infrastructure across the theme parks.
Beneath current regulation, the board for Reedy Creek has been made up of landowners with shut ties to Disney. The invoice launched Monday makes clear that not one of the appointees chosen by the governor will be current Disney workers or their family members, nor that of a competitor. The state Senate, the place Republicans additionally maintain a supermajority, would have remaining approval of the appointees.
“We’re taking one problematic swamp and we’re creating one other swamp by permitting for one individual to nominate all 5 positions,” mentioned Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who authored an unsuccessful modification to get native elected leaders on the board. “And the one motive I can see is as a result of Disney made the governor massive mad by defending LGBTQ+ children.”
The invoice would maintain most of the district’s current powers, although it might finish sure never-exercised capabilities to construct an airport or a nuclear energy plant and would restrict the usage of eminent area exterior the district’s boundaries to grab land that may very well be used to learn Disney.
“These actions guarantee a state-controlled district accountable to the folks as a substitute of a corporate-controlled kingdom,” DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern mentioned.