The last few months have been an incredibly tumultuous time for The Walt Disney Company. As soon as word got out that the company had supported Florida’s controversial Parental Rights law, fans, employees, and leaders were stunned. Disney eventually took a stance against the bill, which caused friction between the company and the state of Florida, with Gov. Ron DeSantis continuing to escalate the battle with incendiary words and even more hostile actions.
For those that may not know, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been attempting to completely dissolve Disney’s special Reedy Creek district. Officially titled the Reedy Creek Improvement Act, with this special ruling, Disney can essentially reside in Florida unregulated, acting as its own “government” in a way. The act involved creating a special taxing district that acts with the same authority as a county government.
The legislation made the claim that landowners within the Reedy Creek Improvement District, primarily Walt Disney World, could be allowed to be solely responsible for paying the cost of providing typical municipal services like power, water, roads, fire protection etc. Local taxpayers, meaning residents of Orange and Osceola County, would not have to pay for building or maintaining those services.
Reedy Creek, which is controlled by Disney, can issue tax-free bonds, levy taxes, oversee land use and environmental protections and provide essential public services. Recently, the Florida Governor took even more action against the district.
DeSantis, along with two other state departments named in a lawsuit filed in May, is asking for the entire case to be dismissed. The state filed a motion to dismiss the case on August 19. Earlier this year, a lawsuit was filed against Gov. DeSantis, which represented concerned taxpayers and how the dissolution of Reedy Creek may hurt them in the long run.
This lawsuit was eventually dismissed and then refiled again in May. This most recent lawsuit, the one DeSantis is now attempting to dismiss, alleges Governor DeSantis violated Florida’s 1967 Reedy Creek Statute, the Florida Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the Florida Constitution, which Sanchez argues are stricter than the U.S. Constitution. In an interview with the Orlando Business Journal, Sanchez said:
“We truly believe we are on firm footing before the state court. The federal court judge viewed the case more through the prism of the First Amendment argument which is Disney’s to make. Although there is case law which also gives third parties rights to raise another party’s First Amendment rights, we chose to not appeal the federal judge’s decision. We believe our Florida taxpayer rights are going to receive greater protection in state court.”
The motion enacted by DeSantis alleges that the complaint is “replete with defects” and that Miami-Dade County is not the proper venue for the action, meaning that the case should be dismissed. The motion also challenges other aspects of the complaint.
The state also questions its role in relation to the dissolution of the district. “[Plaintiffs] make no allegation that the potential impacts they face from SB 4-C going into effect by operation of law on June 1, 2023, are a result of defendants and not some intervening cause such as the operation of law or the potential future decision making of county officials.”
The state also insists that the worries about increased taxes are unfounded, stating:
“Yet, no tax increase related to SB 4-C has been proposed or imposed on plaintiffs. Their complaint utterly fails to identify sufficient ultimate facts showing how the potential dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District pursuant to state law — assuming such dissolution were to occur — could plausibly infringe on their rights as taxpayers.”
Along with gov. DeSantis, the lawsuit also names Florida Department of Revenue Executive Director Jim Zingale and former Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee as defendants. Attorney William J. Sanchez of Miami-based William J. Sanchez & Associates PA, is representing the plaintiffs in the case.