LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday morning officially ended the Walt Disney Company’s quasi-governmental status.
The governor spoke at Reedy Creek Fire Station #4 in Lake Buena Vista, saying he was ending the “Corporate Kingdom.” He signed into law the recently passed bill to take over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Walt Disney World’s self-governing district, officially ending Disney’s tax status for the area around Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom.
The legislation, House Bill 9B, was passed by the legislature along partisan lines during the February special session.
The signing came as DeSantis gears up for an expected presidential run and marks a high-profile legislative victory for a governor whose leveraging of cultural and political divides has pushed him to the fore of national Republican politics.
Referring to the inciting incident for the legislation, Disney’s opposition to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, 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.”
The takeover of the Disney district began last year when the entertainment giant, facing intense pressure, publicly opposed “Don’t Say Gay,” which bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and on other subjects deemed not age-appropriate.
DeSantis moved quickly to penalize the company, directing lawmakers in the GOP-dominated Legislature to dissolve Disney’s self-governing district during a special legislative session, beginning a closely watched restructuring process. DeSantis and other Republican critics of Disney slammed the company for coming out against the education law, calling it a purveyor of “woke” ideology that injects inappropriate subjects into children’s entertainment.
DeSantis said now, Disney will be treated the same as other parks like Sea World. He said the signature on the bill will “officially end the self-governing status in Central Florida for Disney” and will 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 also criticized the 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 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 it would work with the state under the new system.
Several topics were decried by speakers Monday, including some Disney content and its 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.”
Answering questions, DeSantis said Disney had not been paying its fair share of taxes and that the takeover legislation would ensure the company did. He also said it would end “decades of subsidies.”
“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.”
As of publishing time, Disney had not responded to a request for comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.