Ron DeSantis Accused of 'Massive Capitulation' to Disney Over Reedy Creek

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been accused of committing a "massive capitulation" by conservatives as he looks to limit Disney's special status in Florida law, as part of an ongoing row with the company.

A new bill introduced to the Florida state legislature on Monday hopes to limit the control the company is able to exert through the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special government entity that oversees an area that has effectively been managed by the company for half a century and is home to its Disney World resort.

The bill would give DeSantis the ability to appoint the five board members who run the district, who must be confirmed by state senators. It also bars those who have worked for Disney within three years or their relatives from becoming board members.

Under current Florida law, Reedy Creek's administration is elected by local property owners, the vast majority being Disney and its subsidiaries, and provides municipal services for the area such as water, sewage and emergency services in the same way a local authority might. It gives the company unrivaled local powers, including eminent domain—the ability to requisition private property for public use.

Ron DeSantis Disney World Floridy Reedy Creek
Above, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting on November 19, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Inset: Parkgoers walk in front of Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World on September 30, 2022, in Orlando, Florida. A new bill hopes to limit the company's powers over the land the resort occupies. Scott Olson/Getty Images

The fresh legislation is the latest move in a clash between the entertainment giant and DeSantis. Last year, he signed a law that would have dissolved the special entity in response to public criticism from Disney about another law limiting teaching about gender identity in Florida elementary schools.

"Florida is dissolving the corporate kingdom and beginning a new era of accountability and transparency," Bryan Griffin, DeSantis' press secretary, told Bloomberg, noting that the established legislation "gifted extraordinary special privileges to a single corporation."

However, detractors have said that the new bill does nothing to change Disney's tax status within the district, and argue that it does not significantly alter its special status in Florida law.

"So basically Woke Disney gets to keep its nearly tax-free, regulation-free status—but with a different Board," Anthony Sabatini, a former Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, tweeted. "What a massive capitulation this is. HUGE win for Woke Disney. BIG loss for conservatives."

Alex Bruesewitz, a conservative political strategist, wrote: "So Desantis' big stand against woke Disney amounts to: changing the name of Reedy Creek & DeSantis gets to appoint some of his donors to the board? But Disney gets to keep its nearly tax-free, regulation-free status."

Newsweek reached out to DeSantis' office for comment.

The proposed legislation would rename Reedy Creek as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District but states that the new entity will maintain the old one's debt obligations in outstanding bonds—more than $1.1 billion—and its ability to collect taxes from the area it oversees.

According to an analysis conducted on behalf of the Florida House State Affairs Committee, "the bill maintains the current tax-exempt status of property of the district and bonds issued by the district."

The 1967 law that created the district meant that up until now, Disney was effectively able to collect its own taxes on its resort, which are then used to pay for infrastructure and taxes to the counties it is located within. The district was also able to unilaterally claim land from surrounding areas.

Disney noted in a statement on Monday that DeSantis had previously said that the new legislation would result in Disney paying more than $700 million in debt.

The new bill—which is likely to pass the Republican-heavy state legislature before landing on DeSantis' desk—would fix the boundaries of the district, preventing potential land grabs, but would allow it to continue to adopt its own planning and safety codes, provided they are similar or more stringent than those in the rest of Florida.

It would also remove some of the quirks of 1960s legislation, such as the provision for Disney to be allowed to build a nuclear fission power plant—a power it has not exercised—as well as operate an airport and certain types of recreational facilities such as stadia and convention halls.

In a statement issued following the introduction of the new bill, Jeff Vahle, president of the Walt Disney World resort, said that the company was monitoring the progression of the draft legislation.

"Disney works under a number of different models and jurisdictions around the world, and regardless of the outcome, we remain committed to providing the highest quality experience for the millions of guests who visit each year," he said.