When asked why this measure was brought to the special session, DeSantis’ deputy press secretary Bryan Griffin responded that it was about leveling “the playing field for businesses in Florida.”
Why is DeSantis trying to eliminate special districts?
DeSantis and Disney have been feuding for months over Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents. The bill bans classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through third grade.
While Disney was silent as lawmakers debated the measure, the company voiced strong opposition after Florida approved the bill in March. Other LGBTQ supporters have also denounced the bill, including President Joe Biden, and have said it could leave students open to bullying and even suicide.
Disney urged for the repeal of the bill and went so far as to halt all political contributions to Florida’s elected officials.
But the move by DeSantis, a likely 2024 contender, and the Republican Legislature represents a major escalation in the fight. It essentially moves from rhetoric to hitting the company’s pocketbook.
What’s the deal with special districts?
Walt Disney Co. proposed the Reedy Creek Improvement District in the mid-1960s in a remote area of Orange and Osceola counties. It allows Disney to operate like its own county government and is responsible for municipal services such as power, water, fire prevention and road maintenance. It also means Disney doesn’t need approval from local planning commissions if it wants to build new structures.
The reason special districts were created was so taxpayers who don’t benefit from the services of the special district aren’t required to pay for it through taxes.
A huge benefit of special districts is making tax-exempt purchases for the services they provide and issuing municipal bonds for major infrastructure projects at a much lower interest rate, said Chris Lyon, an attorney who deals with special districts.
The measure lawmakers are considering would not permanently terminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, but it would phase it out on June 1, 2023, and allow the special district to reestablish on or after that date.
If legislators approve the bill, as is expected, Disney would be able to go to the state Legislature in Tallahassee next year and request it be reestablished, likely under more limited capabilities and powers.