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Msg  255 of 264  at  2/11/2023 12:46:16 PM  by


DeSantis Declares Victory, but Disney World Keeps Many Perks

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DeSantis Declares Victory, but Disney World Keeps Many Perks

 Barnes, Brooks.  New York Times (Online), New York: New York Times Company.

The Florida governor gained control of a board that oversees some services at the resort, while Disney maintained a special tax district.

Gov. Ron DeSantis gained control on Friday of a five-member Florida board that oversees development and safety services at Walt Disney World, a move that restricts Disney’s autonomy but leaves in place perks enjoyed by the company as part of a 56-year-old special tax district.

Last year, at the urging of Mr. DeSantis, the Florida Legislature revoked Disney World’s designation as a special tax district — a privilege that effectively allowed the company to self-govern its 25,000-acre theme park complex.

“I will not allow a woke corporation based in California to run our state,” Mr. DeSantis said at the time. “Disney has gotten away with special deals from the State of Florida for way too long.” Disney, which is Florida’s largest private employer, had paused political donations in the state and defied Mr. DeSantis by condemning an education law that opponents call “Don’t Say Gay.” It prohibits discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade and limits it for older students.

The problem: The abolishment of the district — set for June 1 — would require taxpayers in two counties to pick up the tab for Disney World services like fire protection, policing and road maintenance. Under the old setup, Disney paid for those costs. The district also carried roughly $1 billion in debt, which would be transferred to the counties.

So the Legislature tried again, taking up a new Disney World measure in a special session that started on Monday. This time, Disney would be allowed to keep the special tax district and almost all its perks, including the ability to issue tax-exempt bonds and approve development plans without scrutiny from certain local regulators. But Disney would no longer be able to appoint the five members of the tax district’s board. Florida’s governor would get to do that.

The bill passed the State House on Thursday and the State Senate on Friday. Mr. DeSantis claimed victory earlier in the week. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” he said.

Mr. DeSantis has relished campaigning and fund-raising against what he calls “woke” corporations — chiefly Disney but also, over the past couple of years, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Ben and Jerry’s — as well as certain math textbooks and the former top prosecutor in Tampa, whom Mr. DeSantis removed from office. Last year, he signed the Stop WOKE Act, a law that limits the teaching of aspects of racism and other history in schools and workplaces.

Before the special session, Disney hoped that it would retain the ability to appoint at least a couple of the board members.

For more than 50 years, the Reedy Creek Improvement District has operated at the highest standards,” Jeff Vahle, Disney World’s president, said in a statement, noting that the resort has been able to grow into “one of the largest economic contributors” in Florida because of the district. “We are focused on the future and are ready to work within this new framework.”

The board makeup is important because members vote on Disney World development efforts, like building a new hotel or access road or an additional theme park. The worry is that a politicized board could delay or even block such plans. (Blocking development efforts and associated job growth is not something Florida’s Republicans are known for doing, however.)

The board does not have the power to dictate the content that Disney offers to its customers.

Disney World is already extensively developed, lessening the potential impact. The complex includes four theme parks; an outdoor shopping mall; a 220-acre basketball, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, baseball and competitive cheer complex; and 18 Disney-owned hotels with 24,000 rooms. The complex attracts an estimated 50 million visitors annually.

The tax district’s comprehensive plan, which was recently updated and approved, already gives Disney the ability to build a fifth theme park, two additional water parks and thousands of hotel rooms on 850 acres. (The company has indicated no plans to do so.) The plan extends until 2032.

Along with putting the board in the hands of political appointees, the measure changed the tax district’s name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Disney will also be barred from building a nuclear power plant or an airport at the resort — things that were never on its to-do list anyway.

Florida has hundreds of similar special tax districts. One covers the Villages, a colossal senior-living community north of Orlando. Another covers Daytona International Speedway and the surrounding area.


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