Orlando-area mansion features Disney, Harry Potter and Star Wars rooms
Disney quietly sidesteps DeSantis’ new board
Outgoing board swallowed a poison pill
The House of Mouse has been anything but meek in its ongoing feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The state legislature during a special session in February gave DeSantis the power to appoint members of the board that oversees the development of Walt Disney World theme parks.
DeSantis sparred with the entertainment giant last year after the company announced it was suspending political donations following the passage of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that restricts the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
But on Feb. 8, before the legislature acted, the board quietly agreed that Disney would keep control over its Florida theme parks and other properties for at least 30 years, CNN reported. (Other outlets pointed out the agreement is in effect for 21 years after the last descendent of King Charles III dies.) The agreement also gives Disney veto power over public projects in the district.
“This essentially makes Disney the government,” board member Ron Peri, a DeSantis appointee, said during a meeting last week, according to CNN. “This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining the roads and maintaining basic infrastructure.”
The current board has hired counsel to look into challenging the 30-year agreement.
“The Executive Office of the Governor is aware of Disney’s last-ditch efforts to execute contracts just before ratifying the new law that transfers rights and authorities from the former Reedy Creek Improvement District to Disney,” DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said, according to CNN. “An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law.”
Disney, meanwhile, told CNN its agreement with the prior board was legal and properly noticed.
It’s the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle between Disney and DeSantis that first saw the state legislature eliminate Disney’s special tax district.
But that measure immediately ran into problems, most notably that it would have required Orange and Osceola counties to pay for services the district typically picked up, including road maintenance and police and fire protection. The district is also carrying a $1 billion debt load, which would have transferred to the counties as well.
So, following the special session in February, the special tax district and its privileges remained intact, but the governor — who many believe will make a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2024 — was given the power to appoint the five members of the district’s governing board.
Theoretically, the move — at least if the 30-year agreement is nullified — could allow the board to tax Disney to pay for road projects outside of Disney World’s borders. And other exemptions were eliminated that could significantly increase the cost of development at the complex.
DeSantis, after the passage of the measure, said “There’s a new sheriff in town.”
But Disney’s latest move had some of DeSantis’ political rivals crowing about the governor being played.
“President Trump wrote ‘Art of the Deal’ and brokered Middle East peace,” Taylor Budowich, spokesman for the Trump-aligned Make America Great Again PAC, said according to CNN. “Ron DeSantis just got out-negotiated by Mickey Mouse.”
— Ted Glanzer
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