DeSantis signs bill permitting board to void Disney deals

Latest chapter in long-running feud between Florida governor and the House of Mouse

Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis (Getty)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has added another episode in his ongoing feud with Disney.

On Friday, DeSantis signed into law a bill that permits a board — Central Florida Tourism Oversight District — that oversees the development of Walt Disney World theme parks to void agreements that its previous incarnation entered into, Reuters reported.

The Republican-controlled legislature passed the bill, which gives the board the ability to void all development agreements Disney made up to three months before the board’s creation.

The state legislature during a special session in February gave DeSantis the power to appoint members of the current board, which replaced the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the outlet reported.

“Make no mistake about it, the reason why the legislature had to act was not because of anything we did,” DeSantis said at a news conference Friday, Reuters reported.. “It was basically born out of Disney’s arrogance that they would be able to subcontract around the duly enacted laws of the state of Florida. That’s wrong.”

It’s the latest salvo in an ongoing feud between DeSantis, a Republican and likely presidential candidate, and Disney dating back to when Disney took a stand against the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that restricts the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

That drew DeSantis’ ire, with the state legislature voting last year to strip Disney of its special tax district, which gives the company the authority to effectively act as a local government that can issue bonds and approve building plans for its 25,000-acre theme-park complex. 

But that measure immediately ran into problems, as it would then require Orange and Osceola counties to pay for services the district typically picks up, including road maintenance and police and fire protection, the Times reported. The district is also carrying a $1 billion debt load, which would have transferred to the counties as well.

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The legislature repealed that law and voted to have DeSantis appoint members of the new board.

But before that law took effect, Disney quietly maneuvered to keep control of its Florida theme parks for at least another 30 years.

Disney also recently filed a lawsuit in federal court against DeSantis and the board that oversees the development of Walt Disney World theme parks, claiming the company is being denied its First Amendment rights.

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District answered with a lawsuit last week seeking to cancel deals that were favorable to Disney, Reuters reported.  

Meanwhile, the current board, composed of DeSantis appointees, said last week that the agreements for Disney’s future multibillion-dollar expansion in Orlando are “void” and “unenforceable,” NBCNews reported.  

The ongoing squabble would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, as Disney — the state’s largest private employer — is a cash cow for Florida, with the company raking in $1.2 billion in local and state taxes last year, according to public disclosures.

— Ted Glanzer