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Disney bucks law dissolving special district by citing 'obscure provision in state law'

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The Walt Disney Corporation is quietly refuting Florida's attempt to revoke the special tax district that governs Walt Disney World.

What is the background?

After Disney promised to fight for the repeal of a new Florida law that protects young students K-3 from classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, the Florida Legislature passed a law dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District by June 2023.

In 1967, the Florida Legislature passed the Reedy Creek Improvement Act permitting Disney to develop 39 square miles of land in the Orlando-area. The law established the RDIC, a special taxing district that essentially permits Disney to "act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government."

However, revoking Disney's special status could leave Florida taxpayers on the hook for more than $1 billion in bond debt, legislators and tax experts warned.

What is Disney saying now?

According to the Miami Herald, Florida Republicans "failed to notice an obscure provision in state law" that would make their actions illegal.

The statutory provision asserts that the, "State of Florida pledges ... it will not limit or alter the rights of the District ... until all such bonds together with interest thereon ... are fully met and discharged."

Thus Reedy Creek said it will continue normal operations:

In light of the State of Florida’s pledge to the District’s bondholders, Reedy Creek expects to explore its options while continuing its present operations, including levying and collecting its ad valorem taxes and collecting its utility revenues, paying debt service on its ad valorem tax bonds and utility revenue bonds, complying with its bond covenants and operating and maintaining its properties.

Florida attorney Jacob Schumer made the same conclusion. If the dissolution of Reedy Creek somehow moves forward, it "will have to wait until all of its bonds are paid in full," Schumer wrote at Bloomberg Tax.

This means the dissolution cannot go forward unless Florida fulfills the costly bond obligations.

What is DeSantis saying?

DeSantis is not backing down. His office released a statement on Thursday vowing that Disney "will pay its fair share of taxes."

"As Governor DeSantis has said, Disney will pay its fair share of taxes, and abolishing the special district will not cause tax increases for the residents of any area of Florida," the statement said.

"If it's true that the repeal of the special district would hand Disney a tax break, and the local taxpayers would be on the hook for this bail-out to benefit Disney ... then why would Disney oppose repealing their special district? Indeed, why wouldn't Disney have lobbied to get rid of the special district long ago?" the statement added.

The statement did not address the obscure Florida statute that could block the dissolution of Reedy Creek.

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