DeSantis says state will take control of Disney's Reedy Creek district

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday the state, rather than any local government, would take control of a taxing district that benefits Walt Disney Co. when the district is dissolved next year.

But details of how to handle the Reedy Creek Improvement District will be resolved after new legislative leaders take their positions following the November elections, DeSantis said during an appearance at Seminole State College of Florida.

"We're working on some proposals. I think we've got pretty much what we want to do," DeSantis said. "But I'm going to work with the legislative leaders, who are going to come in after the election, to make sure that we're all in agreement."

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Lawmakers last month, at DeSantis’ request, voted to dissolve Reedy Creek as of June 2023. That came after Disney opposed a controversial new law that restricts education about gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools — a measure that critics dubbed the "don’t say gay" bill.

Lawmakers last month did not detail what agencies would pick up the services provided by Reedy Creek or who would be responsible for its debt, which has been estimated to top $1 billion. DeSantis put the debt figure at $766 million. 

State law requires that when special districts are abolished, their assets and liabilities go to local governments. But DeSantis said local governments will not pick up the Reedy Creek debt or control district property. 

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"That debt will not end up going to any of these as local governments, it's not going to go to the state government either," DeSantis said. "It's going to absolutely be dealt with (by) the taxpayers who are currently in that district."

DeSantis contended state control would protect residents in Central Florida. 

"I'd much rather have the state leading that effort, than potentially having local governments," DeSantis said. "First of all, it'd be a cash cow for them if they had Disney. But I'm worried that they would use that as a pretext to raise taxes on people, when that's what they would want to do anyways, and then try to blame Reedy Creek." 

READ: The Reedy Creek Improvement Act: Little-known Florida law gives Disney total autonomy

Encompassing 38.5 miles in Osceola and Orange counties, Reedy Creek was created to allow Disney to handle issues from land use and wastewater services to fire protection and transportation without interference from local governments.