Ron Desantis Disney Split
Disney's $163 million tax burden could fall on Florida residents
02:13 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

In his escalating feud with Disney, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday night “additional legislative action” is coming to undo the company’s special tax district.

He said the legislature will address the legality and any potential tax fallout from the state’s recent move to erase Disney’s self-governing status. DeSantis spoke during a “town hall” from Orlando hosted by Laura Ingraham on Fox News.

“There’s going to be additional legislative action,” said DeSantis. “We’ve contemplated that. We know what we’re going to do, so stay tuned. That’ll all be apparent.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

DeSantis signed a bill into law last week to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, effective June 1, 2023. The legislation arose from Disney’s criticism of the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that limits discussion of sexuality and gender in public schools.

Disney has not made any direct public statements about the new law dissolving Reedy Creek. The law is just two pages long and avoids any discussion of details about how to unwind a half-century of infrastructure deals, nor does it lay out the next steps in the complicated process.

Reedy Creek said dissolving the district is not legal unless the state pays off $1 billion in Reedy Creek’s bond debt.

And some officials and residents in neighboring Orange and Osceola counties fear they’ll get stuck with a $163 million annual tax bill if Reedy Creek goes away.

“Disney pays the same taxes” as anyone in Orange County, plus property taxes to Reedy Creek for services around the Disney properties, like emergency services and road work, Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph told CNN.

“One side of the ledger will say zero and the other side will say negative $163 million” against Orange County if Reedy Creek is abolished, Randolph said.

Ingraham asked DeSantis if “this [could] end up backfiring on the people of Florida?”

DeSantis said, “Disney will pay its debts. Disney will, for the first time, actually live under the same laws as everybody else in Florida. Imagine that.”

During the town hall, Ingraham asked if Reedy Creek’s “characterization of the statute is inaccurate.”

DeSantis said the legislature has time to follow up on the new law before Reedy Creek must be dissolved.

Earlier Thursday, his press secretary said it will be a “few weeks” before a plan is announced to ensure taxpayers don’t suffer for the changes made to Disney’s status.

“If it’s true that the repeal of the special district would hand Disney a tax break, and the local taxpayers would be on the hook for this bailout to benefit Disney… then why would Disney oppose repealing their special district?” DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw tweeted on Thursday.

She said the plan will ensure that Disney, the state’s largest private employer, will pay its fair share of taxes.

Reedy Creek is a special purpose district created by state law in May 1967 that gives The Walt Disney Co. extensive governmental control over the land in and around its central Florida theme parks.

In her tweet, Pushaw said Floridians, including residents of Orange and Osceola counties, will not be on the hook for Disney taxes and abolishing the special district will not cause a tax increase for any residents of any area of Florida.

In a letter to its bondholders, Reedy Creek said the 1967 law also includes a pledge from the state stating that Florida “will not in any way impair the rights or remedies of the (bond)holders … until all such bonds together with interest thereon, and all costs and expenses in connection with any act or proceeding by or on behalf of such holders, are fully met and discharged.”

DeSantis has said Floridians will not see any tax increases due to the law dissolving Reedy Creek and insisted that Disney will pay its “fair share” of taxes. He has positioned the law as “the first step in what’s going to be a process to make sure that Disney should not run its own government.”

CNN’s Jamiel Lynch and Leyla Santiago contributed to this report.