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Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Republicans won another legal battle against the Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday.
The lawsuit came in response to the passage of State Bill 4-C on April 22 which removed special tax and governance protections and rights for Disney and required the company to conform with building inspections as well as planning and zoning controls imposed by Osceola and Orange Counties. The law takes effect in July.
“I’m just not comfortable having that type of agenda get special treatment in my state,” DeSantis said at the time when he signed the legislation, which came in response to Disney boss Bob Chapek publicly stating the entertainment giant would actively work to overturn a parental rights law that bars gender fluidity and LGBTQ discussions and curriculum in grades K-3.
The new law is aimed at the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which provides services and utilities to Walt Disney World in Orlando.
Reedy Creek, Lake Buena Vista, and Bay Lake all were founded on May 12, 1967; then, the state of Florida agreed to provide Disney with special privileges for agreeing to build the theme park.
“Reedy Creek, which has a permanent population of about 50, as well as its own board of supervisors and fire department, allows Disney to construct new buildings and expand its parks without having to adhere to state or county regulations related to construction, wastewater management, and drainage,” The Wall Street Journal noted. “It encompasses four theme parks, two water parks, a sports complex, and hotels, stores, and restaurants.”
“You’ll notice you never see potholes when you drive up to Walt Disney World. That’s because Disney doesn’t have to wait for the county to come to fix them,” David Ramba, executive director of the Florida Association of Special Districts, told the Journal. “Reedy Creek is probably the most efficient local government in Florida because it’s not a typical bureaucracy. It’s run like a business.”
The lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga, a George W. Bush appointee, after it was filed by three residents of Orange and Osceola counties who claimed S.B. 4-C unconstitutionally threatened residents with higher taxes and abridged free speech rights, Fox Business reported.
The plaintiffs “do not plausibly allege they have suffered any concrete injury as a result of the alleged violation of Disney’s First Amendment rights, and nothing in the Complaint shows Plaintiffs have a close relationship with Disney,” Altonaga wrote, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel.
SB 4-C “does not apply to them, they do not allege direct harm as a result of the challenged law, and they do not plausibly allege any credible threat of direct harm in the future,” Altonaga added.
According to the WSJ, Disney “provided most of the $153 million in revenue from taxes and fees that the district collected in fiscal 2021.
“That money covers all of the district’s governing expenses, including paying about 400 employees’ salaries and servicing about $977 million in long-term bond debt that Reedy Creek has issued over the years,” the paper added.
In late April, DeSantis said during a town hall-style event in Orlando held by Fox News host Laura Ingraham that he anticipates further legislative and legal actions against Disney.
“There’s going to be additional legislative action,” said the governor, who is a Harvard-educated attorney. “We’ve contemplated that. We know what we’re going to do, so stay tuned. That’ll all be apparent.”
Earlier in the day, Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ spokeswoman, noted on Twitter that it would be a “few weeks” before a final plan is announced to assure that taxpayers won’t suffer from any changes 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?” she wrote, adding that the plan will ensure that Disney, the largest employer in the state, will pay its requisite share of taxes.
For his part, the governor has assured Floridians won’t see any increase in taxes due to the dissolution of Reedy Creek and insisted that Disney will pay its “fair share” of them. He has also described the law calling for the dissolution of the special status as “the first step in what’s going to be a process to make sure that Disney should not run its own government.”