Yeah, Call the Bluff

Up in their corporate suite, executives of the Walt Disney Co. must be laughing themselves silly.

They could only have watched in amazement as Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, pursuing his vendetta against the company for its opposition to his so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, signed a measure that awards the company a tax break estimated at $164 million a year and stuck voters in the Orlando area with the cost.

The estimate comes from Scott Randolph, the tax collector of Orange County, Fla., where most of Walt Disney World and its associated theme parks and resorts are located. It’s the consequence of the law DeSantis signed that will dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special district Florida created in 1967.

The special district is what has allowed Disney to tax itself to build and maintain roads and provide firefighting, emergency medical assistance and utilities for the resort complex. Indeed, it’s considered the cornerstone of Orlando’s evolution into a world-class tourist destination over the following half-century.

According to the new law, Reedy Creek’s functions will devolve to Orange and neighboring Osceola counties. But the counties don’t have the money or the taxing authority to take on those responsibilities.

“There could be a ton of expenses with no additional revenue to cover it,” Randolph told the Orlando Sentinel. Some experts have estimated that property taxes in Orange County alone could rise by 25%, or several thousand dollars per household.

………

Indeed, in signing the bill April 22, DeSantis acknowledged that it might slam taxpayers, but said that wasn’t the “understanding or expectation” from the bill and hinted that there would be additional legislation to fill whatever potholes were created. That doesn’t speak well for the care that legislators ostensibly lavished on their handiwork the first time around.

………

As we reported earlier, Disney landed on DeSantis’ enemies list after the company publicly panned the Don’t Say Gay law, which suppresses teaching in Florida public schools related to sexual orientation or gender identification. Critics of the law, including members of the LGBTQ community, rightfully say it’s “meant to isolate, stigmatize, and erase LGBTQ families and [their] children.”

………

The bonds, of which nearly $1 billion is outstanding, typically include covenants that the state of Florida “will not limit or alter” Reedy Creek’s rights to “own, operate, build or maintain projects within its boundaries,” or “in any way to impair the rights or remedies” of the bondholders. That sounds as if bondholders might have the right to take Florida to court over any changes in Reedy Creek’s authority.

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