Wednesday, July 24, 2024

DeSantis says state lawmakers will ‘formally nullify’ Disney’s bid to block state takeover

(CNN) State of Florida Ron DeSantis Walt Disney World on Monday threatened to raise taxes to retaliate against the company for opposing the construction of a prison or a competing theme park near the Magic Kingdom or a state takeover of its special taxing district.

The Florida Republican Party, which has laid out a plan to exact revenge against the House of Mouse, said the GOP-controlled state legislature will move to “formally repeal it.” Disney’s efforts To retain control of the district through a last-ditch maneuver.

DeSantis said lawmakers will introduce a bill that will “make sure people understand that you can’t put your own company above the will of the people of Florida.”

DeSantis earlier this year took over the Reedy Creek Development District, which has given Disney control over the land surrounding its Central Florida theme parks for half a century, and installed his political allies on the district’s Board of Supervisors. However, Disney reached an agreement with the outgoing group in February that left the body powerless to control the entertainment company. The DeSantis administration was unaware of the deal for a month and vowed to retaliate after it became public.

The conflict between Florida and its largest employer began last year when the state passed a new law restricting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. Disney opposed the bill and pledged to help repeal it. DeSantis responded by targeting the Reedy Creek Improvement District. On Thursday, DeSantis said Disney could take “a raise” if it doesn’t like how the state is governing.

Speaking on an Orlando radio show Monday, DeSantis called the agreement “flawed” and suggested it was not properly addressed under state law. Disney said it followed state meeting laws. The deal was agreed at two public meetings that were covered by the local newspaper.

DeSantis also said a new committee overseeing Disney’s taxing district will meet Wednesday to “make sure Disney is held accountable.” The agenda for the meeting, posted online, says the board will consider laying off existing employees and taking on developmental oversight within the district.

A panel of five DeSantis appointees will instruct employees to comply with the state inspector general’s investigation. DeSantis ordered the hearing earlier this month.

On Monday, DeSantis suggested that Walt Disney World could build either a prison or its own theme park.

“Now think about it, people say, ‘Well, what should we do with this land?'” DeSantis said. “Maybe build a state park. Maybe try to do more amusement parks. Someone even said you need another state prison. I mean, who knows? I mean, I think the possibilities are endless.”

DeSantis also said the new board overseeing Disney’s special taxing district could raise taxes on the company’s vast theme park empire. He suggested the additional revenue could be used to pay down the county’s current debt — a plan that, if passed, would eventually allow the state to finish for good. The 1967 law that created the county prevents the county from dissolving without paying the state’s debt.

The district’s substantial debt, estimated at $1 billion last year, prevented the state from coming up with new legislation that would eliminate the district by this June. The state decided to keep the district earlier this year, but put DeSantis appointees in charge of its governing board.

Meanwhile, state Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson said he supports legislation requiring state inspections of theme parks. Currently, the state oversees small amusement park rides, but not large theme parks such as Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, and Busch Gardens.

However, DeSantis said the law only applies to parks in “special districts.” Other theme parks are not managed by special districts.

DeSantis again denied that his administration had been manipulated by Disney and called the devolution deal a “legal fiction.” He said Disney’s deal with the outbound group “has a lot of legal flaws” and the GOP-controlled Legislature would move quickly to pass a bill to make it valid.

“Disney basically made special deals to avoid that whole process, so they control the group,” DeSantis said. “Essentially it’s like a legal fiction that they negotiated to give themselves the ability to retain their self-governing status.”

Earlier Monday, Good Morning Orlando host Simon Conway asked DeSantis if he would agree to a meeting with Disney CEO Bob Iger to resolve the conflict. Iger recently told Time magazine that he would welcome a sit-down with the Republican governor.

DeSantis said that if Disney accepts that “they’re not going to live under different rules than everybody else.”

“If we get there, it’s fine,” he said. “But we’re not there yet.”

CNN’s Kit Maher contributed to this story.

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