The Reedy Creek Improvement District fiasco

posted by Jeff | Saturday, April 23, 2022, 5:25 PM | comments: 0

If you're wondering why #floridaman trends so much on social media, it's because we have a whole lot of stupid here. It seems we're constantly competing with Texas in that regard. In the latest round, you probably heard that Disney was criticized for not speaking out against the "Don't Say Gay" law that was passed. Given the number of LGBTQ+ folks that work for Disney, especially here in Central Florida, and the fact that Disney spreads a lot of money around toward candidates of both parties, it's not surprising. So CEO Bob Chapek eventually came around, and said, you know what, this isn't cool. Governor DeSantis, a bottom-feeder panderer to Trump's base if I ever saw one, decided that he would be petty and go after Disney for their special planning district, called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which essentially allows them to govern themselves and create the necessary infrastructure that local government ordinarily would not. While it's often perceived as a sweetheart deal, the real benefit isn't self-rule, it's that they don't have to rely on the counties to build the infrastructure that they need. They still pay all the normal property taxes to the counties, but they also pay to taxes to their own government to build all of that stuff. If you've ever seen the road improvements recently, routine bridge replacements and utility work, you can see why that's so great. Living next door to them, it's convenient to cut-through when going certain places.

But DeSantis convinced the legislature to repeal the district, effective next summer, which means the property would fall under the financial obligations of Orange and Osceola Counties. They will have to service their fire departments, utilities and roads, all of it. Keep in mind, Disney currently pays $136 million annually to their own government for this, and when it goes away, all of that cost is shifted to the county residents at large, meaning significant increases in property taxes to cover for it. Again, Disney already pays county property taxes. They'll lose all of that autonomy to fund road construction with bonds, but they'll actually pay less in overall taxes since that burden will be distributed to the counties.

This will result in higher property taxes in our counties, as they'll be responsible for more services, and servicing the debt of the planning district, but the counties will not be able to levy additional taxes on Disney. Governor Dipshit doesn't care if we see 20% increases in property tax, because for the most part it tends to be a fairly blue county. He also doesn't seem to understand that Disney is the largest single-site employer in the country, and has 80,000+ people on payroll here, with more coming as they relocate a number of divisions from California to here. Since corporations are people, thanks to the Citizen United decision some years ago, the company can throw a lot of money into politics, and also enjoys free speech protection.

A number of interesting legal theories then emerge. First, the governor and members of the legislature have very openly declared that this is retribution against Disney for their position against Don't Say Gay. They've gone on record as saying they will try to get back at Disney for expressing their opinion, which is most certainly a violation of the First Amendment. There is also language in the original special district statutes that require dissolution of such districts to be approved by their governing bodies, and it's not clear if they can simply change the law to no longer require those. But in general, the courts are not fond of government singling out a business for any kind of legislative actions, let alone one that is punitive (remember when Republicans were pro-business?). So it's hard to say where this will eventually land, but they've got 14 months to figure it out. Disney is obviously not going to just sit back and take it.

Let's remember that this is all over a law that essentially seeks to pretend that gay and trans people don't exist. They can't exist in the classroom, even if the teachers are gay, the kids have same-sex parents, or a child realizes they may be trans. It makes the world more dangerous for all of these folks by dignifying discrimination and violence against them. The governor keeps using the term "woke" to describe Disney's position, but I think he confuses that with simply exercising basic human respect and inclusion for the people in our communities.


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