What Is Next for Disney in Florida's Battle Over Reedy Creek?

April 23, 2022, 3:23 PM · So now that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed the bill to dissolve the Walt Disney World Resort's Reedy Creek Improvement District, what comes next in the Battle of Reedy Creek?

First, let's acknowledge that the elimination of the Reedy Creek Improvement District [RCID] does not take effect until June 2023, so there's plenty of time left for all parties to find a resolution preserves the RCID. But at this moment, hundreds of Reedy Creek employees now face the possibility of losing their jobs in one year. This includes the paramedics and firefighters who have helped keep millions of Walt Disney World visitors safe over the years - and saved more than a few lives along the way thanks to their swift, well-trained first response.

And for their service, Gov. DeSantis and his Republican allies in the Florida Legislature just moved to fire them all.

DeSantis apologists might claim that these first responders can get jobs with the Orange and Osceola county agencies that would have to assume responsibility for Walt Disney World Resort property, but there's no guarantee that will happen. In fact, there are no guarantees about any fire, medical, utility or other public safety service for the Walt Disney World Resort after May 31, 2023 at this point. All that would need to be negotiated should the state of the Florida succeed in eliminating the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

From a liability perspective, Disney would be well within its rights to refuse to take any reservations for visits from June 1, 2023 onwards until the situation with Reedy Creek is resolved.

As I suggested in my post, Florida Votes to Dissolve Disney World's Reedy Creek, there's zero chance that Florida's action results in the permanent elimination of the RCID. Disney will have full public safety protection in June 2023 and onwards and should be able to continue normal operations without interruption. This legislation is political theater, designed to create an illusion of DeSantis punishing The Walt Disney Company without inflicting any real financial damage upon Disney.

Heck, if Reedy Creek went away, Disney could save up to a reported $100+ million a year in taxes that it pays to the RCID. Disney already pays property taxes to Orange and Osceola counties, too and those counties cannot just target Disney for more taxes to cover the expense of supporting the resort. (Here is a great explainer from an Orlando journalist who has covered Disney, Reedy Creek, and Florida politics for years. Check out his Florida politics newsletter, too.) One way or another, local taxpayers would be on the hook for millions of dollars a year in Disney World expenses now paid by the company.

If Florida really wanted to hurt Disney, it would keep the RCID and instead strip the $500 million+ in tax breaks that it is providing the company to move 2,000+ Disney Parks management and Imagineering jobs from California to Florida. There's not been a word from DeSantis or any of his allies about doing that, which, to me, is the tell here.

The legislation signed by DeSantis (again, here is the link to that) allows the state to reform the Reedy Creek Improvement District on June 1, 2023, so if Disney wants to play ball with DeSantis on this, the district could be reinstated quietly once the governor gets the adoring press from right-wing media and voters that he did this to get.

But should Disney play ball with a politician who is trying to win support by humiliating the company?

This is the ultimate test of Bob Chapek's leadership of The Walt Disney Company. Is he willing to let Ron DeSantis publicly bully Disney in exchange for millions in Florida tax breaks? Or will Chapek be the one to take on - and perhaps take down - DeSantis, reestablishing corporate influence in - if not control of - Florida politics?

If Chapek choose to stand up, Disney's next step is court.

Again, there is a Florida statute on the books that says that a special district such as Reedy Creek cannot be dissolved without a majority vote of the district's residents or landowners. If DeSantis believes that statute does not apply, Disney could go to court to argue otherwise.

Disney also could make a case that Florida targeted the company specifically with this legislation, which could violate the U.S. Constitution. Multiple statements by Florida officials all but confirm that the DeSantis and the Legislature were targeting Disney with this bill, and I am certain that Disney's lawyers have recorded those statements and will be ready to introduce them as evidence.

Also remember that several Florida officials took care to attack Disney as a California business, rather than stating that their target was Florida's own Walt Disney World Resort. That gives Disney an easier argument that this is an interstate commerce case that should be heard in federal courts - perhaps in the California Central District Court - rather than a Florida state court.

Disney also has a potential First Amendment case, outlined here by Mother Jones, of all sources. When one of the nation's leading leftist, pro-labor publications is taking the side of a major corporation, you know things have gone nuts. Still, a First Amendment court case is a win-win for for the left here. Either DeSantis and the GOP loses, or the court is forced to scale back corporate free speech rights, restricting or overturning the Citizens United case.

Ultimately, whether Disney chooses to go to court or not, or whatever Florida ends up doing next, I suspect that the end result of the Battle of Reedy Creek will be fodder for a new Adam McKay film. [He is the creator behind Don's Look Up, Vice, The Big Short, and Succession.] Ron DeSantis versus Bob Chapek is just too perfect a set-up for his brand of sarcastic commentary, isn't it?

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