The Phoenix Flyer

FL House approves state control over Disney’s special tax district

By: - February 9, 2023 5:09 pm

State Rep. Anna Eskamani. Credit: Florida House.

The GOP-controlled state House passed legislation Thursday to assume state control over Disney World’s special tax district, with the governor able to make all board appointments.

Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando attempted to ensure that the five-member board would include local elected officials, but that failed.

“Of the concerns of myself and other members of the Democratic Caucus have is the appointment structure of this board,” Eskamani said. “This board is being taken over by Governor DeSantis.”

Eskamani added: “It does not make sense that the structure be driven by one individual who we all know was mad at Disney last year because this company expressed First Amendment rights and defended LGBTQ+ people, which by the way are also Floridians, they are your fellow Floridians.”

The Disney’s tax district has been called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, but it would be renamed the “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District” if the full Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis approves.

The bill was passed in the House on a 82-31 vote. The five new members on the board would be subject to Senate confirmation.

Some House Democrats argued that the move to restructure the tax district is a result of DeSantis pushing back against Disney for speaking out against a controversial education law.

Just last year, state lawmakers moved to eliminate the special tax district after Disney publicly denounced the law known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – creating a chilling effect on classroom discussions on sexuality and gender issues in public schools.

The special tax district – which spans 25,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties – acts as a local government that provides services, such as building roads and has its own fire department.

During a press conference this week, DeSantis made it clear that the state would assume control of Reedy Creek but ensured that Disney would be obligated to pay all its debt.

“So I just want to start out by saying that my district is adjacent to the Reedy Creek Improvement District,” said state Rep. Jennifer Harris, a Democrat representing part of Orange County.

“Many of my constituents either work at Walt Disney World or they are in the hospitality and tourism industry when Walt Disney World shut down,” Harris said. “I also want to point out that we’ve talked about how old this district is. It is 55 years old, and for that entire time, nobody has ever had a complaint about how it’s been run.”

Disney World CEO Bob Iger revealed plans Wednesday to lay off 7,000 workers, about 3% of its global workforce of 220,000 as of October, the Orlando Sentinel reported this week. Iger said the layoffs are part of Disney’s efforts to slice a total of $5.5 billion in costs. He did not say where the cuts would occur, according to the Sentinel.

The bill now has to be approved by the Senate.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.