For months, Florida Republicans have been in a heated battle over Florida’s passing of the Parental Rights in Education bill. The Walt Disney Company denounced the bill before its passing and after. Florida Republicans retaliated, passing a bill that will end the Reedy Creek Improvement Act of 1967. The dissolution of Reedy Creek will put an end to Disney’s autonomy and make them beholden to the state for things like building permits. Many are questioning the legality of the bill. And now, another group is getting in on the action — Florida taxpayers.
On May 4, taxpayers who live in the counties surrounding the Walt Disney World Resort — mainly Osceola County and Orange County — filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The taxpayers are claiming that Governor DeSantis violated their rights when he signed the law that would dissolve Reedy Creek.
The news was first broken by The Hollywood Reporter, which reported:
In a complaint filed on Tuesday in Florida federal court, residents who live near Disney World argue they and other taxpayers will be burdened with at least $1 billion in Disney’s bond debt if the state follows through with its plan to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District. They seek to block the law. “It is without question that Defendant Governor DeSantis intended to punish Disney for a 1st Amendment protected ground of free speech,” reads the lawsuit. “Defendant’s violation of Disney’s 1st Amendment rights directly resulted in a violation of Plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment rights to due process of law.”
“Stripping Disney of this special district designation will move these major regulatory burdens unto the county, thereby increasing the Plaintiff’s taxes, and will cause significant injury to plaintiffs,” the complaint states.
Right now, Reedy Creek is able to essentially function as its own government. It pays the state hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, but does not have to get permission from the state for things like construction permits. Since Reedy Creek functions independently, it is also responsible for all the fees incurred for things like police, fire, and medical. It is also financially responsible for all of the repairs that the Walt Disney World Resort needs, whether it is at a hotel, Disney Springs, or anywhere around Disney’s 25,000 acres.
If Reedy Creek is dissolved, all of that financial burden falls on the taxpayers. While residents across the state may see a small increase in their taxes, most of the money will come from Osceola and Orange Counties because that is where Walt Disney World is located. Not only will those counties be responsible for a majority of Disney’s future debt, but they are also responsible for Reedy Creek’s past debt.
Reedy Creek operates at a loss every year and currently has about $1 billion in bond debt. Since those bonds can’t be redeemed until 2029, should DeSantis want to dissolve Reedy Creek early, the state would be legally required to pay off those bonds. DeSantis has said that the state will dissolve Reedy Creek, but will not pay the bonds — he has yet to say how the state will get around the law.
The lawsuit also states that the Florida Supreme Court has created a statute when it comes to people who are not part of a contract suing over that contract. The Florida Supreme Court has allowed taxpayers to sue if a breach of a certain contract will injure them. The taxpayers are also suing over the potential loss of thousands of jobs.
The taxpayers in the lawsuit believe that Governor DeSantis is violating the law — and their rights — because it wants to punish Disney for exercising its First Amendment Rights. Neither Disney nor the office of the Governor has responded to the lawsuit at this time.