TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Shortly after the new year, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans for the state of Florida to take over the governance of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Now, a spokesman for DeSantis has confirmed the legislation could be drafted as early as February via a special session.
”I can confirm that the governor’s office anticipates a special session next week on Reedy Creek and other items,” Bryan Griffin, the governor’s press secretary, confirmed to WFLA.com’s Tallahassee reporter Libbey Dean.
Based on the timing, the session could come as early as Feb. 6, though no official transmittal letter for the session to be called has been published or provided yet.
As proposed, a state-run board would be put in place to handle control of the area, rather than allow the Reedy Creek Improvement District to propose a plan for regaining its special district status, as required by the special session which stripped it away.
During DeSantis’ Wednesday budget proposal, the governor answered a question about the Magic Kingdom’s political status, in follow-up to the plan. He said the legislation would ensure the Walt Disney Company is not outside the law and that “they pay their bills,” rather than have Floridians pay the tax burdens of the Walt Disney Company.
RCID has been the governing body for the land that surrounds Disney’s Florida operation since the 1960s, when the Walt Disney Company made a deal with the state to come into the area between Orange and Osceola counties and build the resort and nearby cities.
“People have to remember that the pitch to create Reedy Creek was Disney saying ‘we’ll build a city if you give us city powers,’ and then they didn’t build a city. I think they intended to, I don’t think it was bad faith, but they didn’t follow through,” Rep. Randy Fine (R-Brevard) told WFLA.com in December.
Fine was the author of 2022’s special session legislation which stripped the special district of its status, setting up the political battle that could unfold this month. The ripple effect of Disney’s protracted fight with Florida over the bill added to pressures on then-CEO Bob Chapek. His predecessor, Bob Iger, returned to company leadership in November. The leadership change made some hopeful that discussion could begin anew, but DeSantis said through a spokesperson in November that there would be “no U-turns.”
The deal between Florida and Disney was largely untouched until 2022, when the company came out against House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill. Pushing back against Disney over their response, DeSantis and state lawmakers announced plans to revoke the deal it made with the state in the 1960s, before specifying their goal of having the state operate the district.
As far as the state’s plan, DeSantis was blunt.
“Reedy Creek is exactly what I said. We’re not going to have a corporation controlling its own government, that’s going to revert to the state,” DeSantis said. “I’d rather it be the local but I don’t think they’re prepared for it, so the state’s going to have a board to run it. Disney is not going to have its self-governing status anymore.”
He also said the entertainment company would no longer have special legal privileges and that the board would ensure Disney pays its “fair share” of taxes and debt.
“You remember when we did this, people said, ‘Oh, all of the Floridians are going to get soaked with the Reedy Creek debt, and all of these people’s taxes are going to go up,’ not happening,” DeSantis said. “We said that at the time and we’ll have a great framework in place to bring some sense to this and it’s not right to put one company in this special status. What we’re really doing is just doing is equally treatment, and it’s exactly what we said we would do.”
WFLA.com has reached out to the governor’s office for comment on when to expect a more concrete announcement about the RCID special session, and more on what might be proposed in the legislation.