DeSantis vs. Disney heats up as governor proposes Florida take control of special district: ‘The corporate kingdom has come to an end’


Disney has had a sweet deal in Florida for decades. It might not last much longer.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely expected to run for president next year, intensified his feud with Disney on Friday with a plan to take control of the governing board for the company’s sprawling Florida property—and make the entertainment giant assume $700 million in outstanding debt.

Walt Disney World has enjoyed the privileges of a special governing district, called Reedy Creek, since 1967.

“The corporate kingdom has come to an end,” said Taryn Fenske, communications director for the governor, in a statement. “Under the proposed legislation, Disney will no longer control its own government, will live under the same laws as everyone else, will be responsible for their outstanding debts, and will pay their fair share of taxes.”

A notice posted to the Osceola County website suggested the proposed legislation would leave almost no aspect of Reedy Creek untouched. The special district borders Osceola and Orange counties. 

A state-controlled board, Fenske added, would ensure that Orange County cannot use Reedy Creek–related issues “as a pretext to raise taxes on Orange County residents.” 

In April, DeSantis signed a law, drafted by state lawmakers in a special session, to dissolve all special districts like Reedy Creek by June 2023. How that legislation will mesh with the new proposal was not immediately clear. The move was triggered by what the Republican governor saw as Disney’s criticism of a law he signed—dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by detractors—that limits elementary school teachings about gender identity.

“Disney can no longer have its own government and own taxing authority, and Disney—not taxpayers—will have to be responsible for any financial consequences,” DeSantis’s former chief of staff, Adrian Lukis, told Fox News. “While this will be painful for Disney, I expect businesses throughout the state will be proud of their governor for making it clear that he doesn’t care who you are, or how politically connected you may be—no one gets special treatment in Florida.”

Fortune reached out to Disney but did not receive an immediate reply. Fox News first reported on the Friday development, citing sources in the governor’s office. 

In his feud with Disney, DeSantis has shown a combative side that has resonated widely among Republicans, and many expect him to announce a presidential run this year, probably after Florida’s legislative session in the spring or summer. Various polls show the governor leading ex-President Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup for the GOP nomination, while in November Tesla CEO Elon Musk indicated he’d support a DeSantis run for the White House.

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