- Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the five individuals who will serve on the Board of Supervisors in control of the former Reedy Creek Improvement District.
- The announcement comes as DeSantis signed legislation drafted and passed during a recent special session that strips Disney of control over Reedy Creek.
- The governor also reaffirmed on Monday that residents in the counties surrounding the special district would not pick up the tax burden left by its dissolution.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the five individuals who will serve on Reedy Creek Improvement District’s Board of Supervisors on Monday, effectively completing the state’s takeover of the district.
The five supervisors — Sarasota school board member Bridget Ziegler, Attorney Brian Aungst, Jr., Seminole County Bar Association President Mike Sasso, CEO of The Gathering USA Ron Peri, and attorney Martin Garcia, who will serve as the Board’s Chair — will hold voting power over any governmental decisions made within the district.
The announcement comes as DeSantis signed legislation drafted and passed during a recent special session that strips Disney of control over Reedy Creek. The House Bill officially renames the district to the “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District,” and granted the governor the right to appoint members to the Board of Supervisors.
“We made a decision last year to go in a different direction with respect to how Disney is governed,” said DeSantis. “Since the 1960s they’ve enjoyed privileges unlike any company or individual in the state of Florida has ever enjoyed. They had exemptions from laws that everyone else had to follow, and they were able to get huge amounts of benefits without paying their fair share of taxes. They even racked up $700 million worth of municipal debt.”
Prior to today’s bill signing, landowners within Reedy Creek elected Board members. Due to Disney’s ownership of the majority of land within the district, the corporation was effectively able to hand-select the Board’s supervisors. Preventing Disney from still having a stake in the district’s management, a provision within the bill prevents any individual who was employed by or affiliated with the company within the past three years from serving on the Board.
DeSantis set his sights on Reedy Creek last year after Disney publicly opposed a law that restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
As a result, House lawmakers passed a bill (SB 4-C) to officially eliminate the special district that allows Disney to self-govern its Orlando-area theme park but gave until June of this year for lawmakers to make needed changes.
“Until Gov. DeSantis acted, the Walt Disney Company maintained sole control over the District. This power amounted to an unaccountable corporate kingdom,” the Office of the Governor told The Capitolist.
Amid the controversy, Disney pledged to halt political campaign donations in Florida last year, a reverberating decision afflicting both major parties. Financial reports show that the corporation contributed nearly $5 million dollars to candidates during the 2020 election cycle, with $913,000 going directly to the Republican Party of Florida. Disney also gave $313,000 to the state’s Democratic Party and another $50,000 directly to DeSantis’ campaign.
Welcoming close to 60 million visitors per year, Disney generates $18.2 billion in annual economic activity through its Walt Disney Parks and Resorts division, accounting for 2.5 percent of Florida’s gross domestic product. With more than 77,000 employees, the company also serves as one of the state’s largest employers.
The governor also reaffirmed on Monday that residents in the counties surrounding the special district would not pick up the tax burden left by its dissolution, as uncertainty swelled surrounding how the debt would be managed. Reedy Creek currently holds around $1 billion in debt and has an operating budget of approximately $100 million per year.
“Right now, there will be no additional tax burden on any Floridian in Central Florida or otherwise,” said DeSantis. “In fact, for the decades [the district] has been in effect, you have infrastructure feeding into the theme parks that was paid for by the citizens of Central Florida, and Disney really got a free ride on that. Now they can be taxed for that. So if anything, it’s going to reduce the tax burden on the people of Central Florida.”
Reedy Creek was created by the Florida state legislature in 1967 to provide local government services for the Walt Disney World resort. The district operated as its own government, with powers similar to those of a county, and was responsible for providing services such as fire protection, building inspection, and waste management.