ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — There is little question over what the Florida House will do when they file into their chamber Thursday. Dominated by Republicans who worry about Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoing pet projects in their budget if they step out of line, they will vote for his preferred Congressional map and to dismantle Disney’s Reedy Creek district merely 48 hours after the idea was proposed.
The lightning-speed progression of the movement, compared to the five months it took to declare a state dessert this year (strawberry shortcake with Florida dairy, for those wondering), left zero room for input from many of the stakeholders involved.
No Disney representatives were on hand to publicly comment. No Orange or Osceola County taxpayers were able to fight against the $1 billion in debt that would land in their laps. Only the politicians who would benefit by weaponizing the issue in their upcoming elections had their voices heard.
“I feel like I’m living in an alternative reality,” one Democrat mused.
The events of the 48-hour span have some predicting a Godzilla versus Goliath court battle, with Florida’s most powerful company going up against Florida’s most abrasive government to prevent the dissolution from taking effect.
However, Terry Lewis, an attorney with Lewis, Longman & Walker who specializes in special district law, said Disney likely doesn’t have any ground to stand on.
“There was never a referendum in Orange County to create the Reedy Creek Independent District,” he said, responding to some calls for a vote by the local delegation as allowed by state law.
His colleague, Chris Lyon, further pressed the point.
“If the legislature created you a special district, it has the absolute authority to modify your special act, your charter, or to even further dissolve the district,” Lyon explained.
Of the many attorneys Eyewitness News consulted Wednesday, none of them put money on Disney quietly accepting the new order and handing off power to politicians in Orlando and Kissimmee, though.
Instead, Lyon predicted the company would circle back with lawmakers in January, after their elections ended and time passed for cooler heads to prevail.
Reedy Creek, he said, would survive in a slightly slimmed down form. It will most likely maintain all the power that Disney truly cares about, while giving up some of the 1960s abilities written into its charter as Disney planned major housing developments — such as the ability to build a nuclear power plant.
“In that circumstance, the legislature will have the opportunity to look at every aspect of the governance of the district and the authority it has,” he said. “The legislature will make the decision on how this district operates and what powers it has going forward.”
Comments from Republicans up and down the ranks, sans DeSantis himself, suggest Lyon’s prediction will come true.
“We have more than a year to undo this now,” Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Hernando) said. “I don’t know how the end will come, but I know that this is a very worthy process that we’re undertaking. I think that whatever comes out of it will be better than what we have today.”
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