Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Revokes Disney’s Special Tax Privileges and Self-Governing Status

The GOP politician has railed against Disney and what he’s said are “woke corporations” after pushback to the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has revoked Disney’s special tax district privileges and their ability to self-govern in the area where Walt Disney World Resort is located. It ends an exemption that dates back over 50 years and threatens to put a major strain on Disney World’s operations.

The bill passed through Florida congress this week, and DeSantis signed it into law on Friday. It’s the latest step in an ongoing political battle over Disney’s objection to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill recently passed in Florida, and the move by DeSantis, who has railed against “woke corporations,” is widely seen as retaliation to Disney over their comments about the law.

In his remarks Friday, DeSantis claimed Disney had an agenda to indoctrinate kids with ideas about sexuality in its programming.

“I’m not comfortable having that type of agenda get special treatment in my state,” he said.

Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since 1967, Disney has received tax and regulation exemptions for an area known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The exemption in effect allows Disney to govern itself on Disney World grounds, including having its own fire department and board of supervisors, as well as its ability to oversee land and environmental regulations.

Past estimates have suggested that Disney saves tens of millions a year in regulations, taxes and fees because of the privileges, and repealing the exemption could put a big strain on the company. The Reedy Creek district spans over 27,000 acres, including Disney World’s four theme parks, two water parks and other hotels and retail outlets in the area. And the district was key in helping Disney World set up shop in Orlando back in the ’60s, as well as for the theme park that would become EPCOT Center.

Florida Democrats have pushed back on the bill by saying that it could have local residents in Florida’s Orange and Osceola counties footing the bill in taxes, though DeSantis in his remarks on Friday downplayed any effect the repeal of the Reedy Creek Improvement District will have on taxpayers.

Last month, Disney was embroiled in controversy over its initial silence over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and after it was reported that Disney had given donations to politicians who were sponsors or co-sponsors of the legislation. CEO Bob Chapek ultimately met with DeSantis in the hopes of vetoing the legislation, but after its passage, Disney has paused all political donations, apologized to its LGBTQ+ staff and vowed to fight to repeal the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The “Don’t Say Gay” law, officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, will now prevent teachers in Florida public schools from holding any classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity. The law goes into effect on July 1.

DeSantis on Friday signed into law what in some circles has been dubbed the “Stop Woke Act” (HB7), which DeSantis described in a tweet as “anti-CRT legislation putting an end to corporate and educational indoctrination in Florida” (“CRT” stands for critical race theory). Critics though, have said the law censors honest dialogue about systemic racism, gender and race discrimination.

“Today, Governor DeSantis did the opposite of what the governor of Florida is elected to do –  to protect and serve all of his constituents – choosing instead to yet again use the power of the government to punish or censor anyone he disagrees with and attack marginalized Floridians, including the LGBTQ+ community,” said Cathryn M. Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for LGBTQ+ activist group Human Rights Campaign. “The Governor is determined to tell Floridians what they can say, what they can learn, what they can teach, what they can believe, and who they can be. The ‘Stop Woke’ Act is designed to further exclude marginalized groups from necessary conversations in our schools, communities and workplaces and to further limit individuals who deserve to exist freely, proudly, and to have their stories shared.”