‘Political retribution’: Demings denounces decision to strip Disney’s self-governing power

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida legislature voted to abolish Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District just two days after the governor added the decision to this week’s special session.

It’s largely been seen as a way to punish Disney for its opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Law, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

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Protests disrupted the House proceedings as members were taking up new congressional maps, drawn by Gov. Ron. DeSantis.

Once order was restored, leadership quickly passed the new maps as well as the bill to eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, setting the stage for Orange County to take over all of the city services at Disney as well as $1 billion in debt.

Read: Court battle? Negotiation? What’s next for Reedy Creek

That would mean taxpayers in Orange County would be hit with an extra $2,200 in debt for a family of four. But it does allow the districts to be reestablished in the future, leaving the door open for further negotiations.

“Just like everybody else we are trying to understand what the legislature truly is trying to do in this case, but I believe they have not adequately contemplated the ramifications of what they have proposed at this point,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said.

Read: What would dissolving Disney’s Reedy Creek mean for local taxpayers?

On Thursday, Demings called into question the speed at which lawmakers rammed this through, saying nobody really knows what is going to happen next.

“There are some complex issues here that are not yet defined. Based upon the proposed language that I’ve seen, the devil is in the details and we quite simply today do not have the details,” he said.

What we do know, is that if nothing changes between now and June 1, 2023, Orange and Osceola counties will have to take over fire, water, electric, roads, and other services currently paid for by Disney, without having access to the taxing authority that Reedy Creek provided to pay for all of this.

Read: Disney’s debt is about to be Central Florida taxpayers’ problem

“It’s obvious that this is political retribution that is at play here and that’s probably not the best solution,” Demings said.

Channel 9 reached out to Reedy Creek and to Disney for reaction, but neither has responded.

Osceola County released the following statement on the decision:

“Now that the legislature has passed a bill to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Osceola County Government will begin an analysis to understand the impacts in preparation for this going into effect, including evaluating any shifts in cost to Osceola as a result. As Disney and Reedy Creek have been self-contained, we are uncertain of what fiscal responsibilities will be encumbered after June 2023. Over the many years, Disney has been a strong community partner and we expect that relationship to continue as we work together for a transition plan.”

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.