DeSantis' Nuclear Option: What Would Happen If Florida Revoked Disney's Special Governing Arrangement?

Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The passing of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing of it into law have escalated into a tense war between the increasingly solid red state and The Walt Disney Corporation, which continues to double down on its heavily pro-LGBT stance.


Disney has vowed to fight for the repeal of the law despite the fact that it reflects the values of parents throughout the state — as well as many of the company’s cast members (which is what Disney calls its employees).

But, just as we’ve expected from Florida’s governor, DeSantis isn’t simply rolling over — he’s fighting back.

On Friday, my PJ Media colleague Rick Moran wrote that DeSantis and other GOP legislators in the Sunshine State have mused about repealing the legislation that gave Disney its own governmental authority over the Walt Disney Word property over 50 years ago.

I predicted that this could be a nuclear option for DeSantis last month when I wrote, “If Disney did criticize Florida too harshly, the state could play hardball and threaten to revoke the legislation that created the company’s special quasi-governmental designation, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which allows the company to operate with less interference from the state and county governments.”

Many of you have wondered what exactly that means, but first, let me give you a little background into Disney’s special governing authority, which is called the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

I’ve written tons about Disney history here at PJ Media and in my book Neon Crosses (which you really should buy). In Neon Crosses, I explained the concept behind the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.


“Before Walt died, the legal team discovered a somewhat obscure Florida law that allowed for the creation of special improvement districts with a different form of governance than a traditional municipality. Bob Foster convinced Walt that petitioning the state legislature to allow Disney to govern its own property under that law was the way to go. An improvement district would grant the company exemptions from local building codes and would allow Disney to create its own first response and telecommunications services.”

Creating the Reedy Creek Improvement District allowed Disney to develop state-of-the-art communications systems that no one else had ever tried, implement innovative environmental control measures, and build unique buildings all without local government interference.

Related: Disney Cast Members Who Don’t Buy Into the LGBTQ Agenda Make Their Voices Heard

The Reedy Creek Improvement District does a lot of work on Disney’s vast property. Blog Mickey breaks it down:

• 134 miles of roadways and 67 miles of waterways built and maintained
• 250,000 daily guests
• 6-8 minute response time for fire and EMS
• 60,000 tons of waste managed
• 30 tons of aluminum, paper, steel cans, cardboard and plastic containers recycled every year
• 22,800 water samples collected by RCID scientists from 1,500 locations on the property for testing every year
• 90,000 analyses conducted to make sure that water quality meets or exceeds state and national standards. Water draining from the south end of the District is generally cleaner than when it entered Reedy Creek at its north end.
• 2,000 vendors, suppliers and contractors used to provide a high level of public services for visitors


That’s a ton of service to the guests and cast members at Walt Disney World. So what would happen if the state revoked the Reedy Creek Improvement District?

Orlando’s News 6 political analyst Jim Clark reported that “It would be a disaster for Disney. One of the reasons they came here in the mid-60s was the legislature’s promise that they could have self-government.”

Walt Disney World straddles two counties: Orange and Osceola. Revoking Reedy Creek would put that big chunk of Disney back under the jurisdictions of those two counties. Before we dig into more specifics, imagine the headache of dealing with not one, but two county authorities.

Disney would lose its autonomy in every area listed in the bullet points above and subject the company to a mind-blowing tangle of local government bureaucracy.

“Rather than local governments, Disney is in control of everything from construction zoning, building codes and fire department services to controlling its own electricity, roads and water, meaning if the law is repealed, Disney will now have to get government approval for decisions about its operations—which might be harder or take longer to get,” notes Alison Durkee at Forbes.

Disney installs its own Board of Supervisors over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and that board implements its own rules and self-taxation over the property, which pays for the services that the district offers. Those taxes would become county taxes that Orange and Osceola Counties would be sure to raise in order to pay for the additional burden of services that the property would impose on the counties.


Recommended Disney History Lesson: Walt Disney’s Fascinating Political Journey

Additionally, the Florida legislature has been extremely Disney-friendly for 50-plus years. Legislators have carved out all sorts of exceptions to legislation that benefits Walt Disney World and enacted legislation that Disney has lobbied for. From carveouts for social media companies to transportation initiatives, Florida has been good to Disney, and Jason Garcia detailed much of it in a 2019 Florida Trend article.

Disney could easily lose a remarkably friendly legislature should Florida’s GOP decide to go nuclear.

“There’s a lot of special privileges that are not justifiable, but because Disney had held so much sway, they were able to sustain a lot of special treatment over the years,” DeSantis said last week. “And now with their conduct … I just don’t think you have very many people in the legislature anymore that are going to be able to defend what has been done over many, many years to have them govern themselves.”

Another thing Disney could lose is immense tax breaks that could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars, although DeSantis has hinted that he’s inclined to leave those alone.

“DeSantis said Friday those tax benefits likely aren’t at any risk of going away, however, claiming those tax breaks are ones “that any business would be eligible for” and there are “no special tax breaks that are Disney-specific that we would contemplate’ taking away,” Durkee writes.


Disney still sees opposing the Parental Rights in Education law as a matter of “right and wrong,” as former CEO Bob Iger called it.

But, as National Review‘s Jim Geraghty points out, “This is a law, again, that forbids teaching sexual topics such as “gender identity” to children between the ages of four and nine. For all their blathering, not a single Disney executive has attempted to explain what precisely is so ‘harmful’ and ‘immoral” about that.”

DeSantis and Florida’s Republicans are certain about the right and wrong of protecting the state’s children from sexualization in schools against parents’ permission. They’re willing to do everything they can to combat Disney’s wokeness, and they have some powerful tools they can use if they need to. But will it come down to those nuclear options?


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