An End to Mickey’s Special Privileges: DeSantis vs. Disney

Denise Vaque, Design Editor

Sparking backlash and protest, Florida’s recent House Bill 1557 Parental Rights in Education Bill, also dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, has been a national topic of controversy. Walt Disney Company employees walked out on Mar. 22 in response to the corporation’s donations to politicians who supported the bill. The employees were also protesting the forced relocation of thousands of employees from California to Florida, where they would be affected by the legislation. Pressure from the public and employees encouraged Disney to issue a statement publicly condemning the bill and vowing to help repeal it, as well as an apology to LGBTQ employees from CEO Bob Chapek. 

In response to the Walt Disney Company’s statements, Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, admonished the company by threatening to revoke their special privileges. These privileges include the company’s right to govern itself by a board of five elected supervisors that make up the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Signed into law by Florida Governor Claude Kirk in 1967, the Reedy Creek Improvement Act established the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which allowed Disney to construct their Florida theme park and act as a county government in having the freedom to build without restriction, write their own building codes and construct and maintain their own infrastructure. Today, the district is home to the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, along with Disney’s four Florida theme parks, two waterparks, sports complex, more than 25 hotels, 90 restaurants and hundreds of retail stores.

Repealing the Reedy Creek Improvement Act would have dire consequences for the Walt Disney Company, as it would put them under the authority of Osceola and Orange County. This would require the company to submit to taxes, fees, building inspections, zoning laws and other regulations that it currently does not have to abide by. 

As Florida’s biggest tourism draw, Walt Disney World brings 58 million visitors to Orlando every year, being the most visited vacation resort in the world. The park also employs 77,000 Floridians and is one of the state’s largest employers. Thus, the corporation’s contributions to the Florida economy are essential, as the state does not charge income tax. If the company were to face consequences for its opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Bill, it could easily backfire and be disastrous for Florida as a whole. 

In this ongoing battle between Governor DeSantis and the Walt Disney Company, it is unlikely that any politicians will propose a repeal of the Reedy Creek Improvement Act until 2023.