Disney government in dark about effect of law dissolving it
Image via AP.

Disney AP
‘I don’t think anyone has deciphered it.’

At the first meeting of Walt Disney World’s private government since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a measure to dissolve it next year, officials said Wednesday they were still confused about what the new legislation meant, even as some ripple effects were starting to be felt.

The administrator of the government, called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, said the expansion of a solar power project could be delayed because of financing challenges linked to the legislation, and the union for the district’s firefighters expressed concerns about what the dissolution might mean for members’ lifetime benefits.

After the meeting, Donald Greer, who has been a member of Reedy Creek’s board of supervisors since 1975, said the board could not provide clear answers on those issues because “we don’t know where we are going.”

“The district may have a response as soon as we know what it means, but I don’t know if anybody knows what it means. I don’t think anyone has deciphered it,” Greer said.

DeSantis signed the measure into law last week in a move many saw as punishment for Disney’s opposition to another new law barring gender identity and sexual orientation instruction in early grade school, which critics call “Don’t Say Gay.” It was the latest front in a culture war DeSantis has waged over policies involving race, gender and the coronavirus, battles he has harnessed to make himself one of the most popular Republicans in the country and a likely 2024 presidential candidate.

Last week, a day before DeSantis signed the bill into law, the Reedy Creek Improvement District sent a statement to investors that said it would continue its financial operations as usual. The district wrote that its agreement with the state forbids Florida from limiting or altering the district’s ability to collect taxes or fulfill its bond obligations.

Critics of the dissolution bill have warned that taxpayers in neighboring counties could end up shouldering about $1 billion in debts from the district. DeSantis has dismissed those concerns and said additional legislation would be drafted to clarify the future of such special districts in the state.

At the Reedy Creek meeting Wednesday, district administrator John Classe said a developer has experienced challenges financing a planned expansion of a solar power program, meaning it could be delayed.

Jon Shirey, the head of the union for Reedy Creek’s firefighters, who make up around half of the private government’s 400 employees, asked supervisors to give his members reassurances that their jobs and benefits would be preserved since they have been kept in the dark about what the effect is going to be. The firefighters, particularly retirees, are worried about losing their guaranteed lifetime health insurance, he said.

“We have been told to stay quiet, don’t talk to the media, don’t engage with current events,” Shirey told supervisors. “We have been told the leadership of the district will tell the story. They will be the ones putting out the message. I ask you, ‘What is that message?’”

The supervisors did not respond, and in fact spent little time devoted to the legislation which poses an existential threat to the 55-year-old Reedy Creek Improvement District. Classe told supervisors its workers would continue to function with the same “high standards and professionalism they always have done as we learn what this legally means.”

Backers of the dissolution of Reedy Creek have argued it removes an unfair advantage the entertainment giant has over other theme parks, including allowing it to issue bonds and set its own zoning standards.

At an event Monday, the governor assured a cheering crowd that Disney’s bond debts won’t be dumped on taxpayers.

“Under no circumstances will Disney be able to not pay its debts, we will make sure of that,” DeSantis said.

Credit rating agency Fitch Ratings has put Reedy Creek on a “negative watch” list, indicating that the private government’s ratings could stay the same or potentially be downgraded. A downgrade would make borrowing more difficult for Reedy Creek.

Another ratings agency, S&P Global Ratings, said that among the questions left unanswered by the new law was whether Reedy Creek would reconstitute after its dissolved next year, how utility operations and debt would be transferred to the neighboring governments if it came to that and how the neighboring governments would raise taxes to secure Reedy Creek’s debt.

Under the law, Reedy Creek would expire by June 2023. The lack of public answers from Reedy Creek leaders about the new law may come from fear “the governor will find their statements unfriendly and that will complicate things,” said Shirey, who added he is optimistic lawmakers will look after the interests of the district’s first responders.

“We have 14 months, and a lot can change between now and then,” Shirey said.

___

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Associated Press


7 comments

  • Beth

    April 28, 2022 at 5:07 am

    DeSantis continues to do the only thing he is capable of, sowing chaos. FL is facing serious issues such as 50 -100% increases in home owners insurance, lack of affordable housing, massive increases in rent, increasing costs of prescription drugs, constant gun violence, water pollution, and piles of dead fish. Meanwhile Ronnie is scanning textbooks to make sure they don’t contain the word “feelings” or tell the true story of US history. He buys a private jet for himself, starts a useless “election police force” , forms his own militia, pushes to allow more guns in circulation, and alienates the largest employer in FL because they don’t support his racist bigoted policies. All at taxpayer expense. DeSantis is not a leader, he has not done one thing to address one real problem in FL. He is costing us more and more money each day. He has made FL the laughingstock of the country. He and each of his enablers in the FL legislature need to be recalled or voted out. Let’s start electing intelligent leaders capable of solving real problems and spending our taxpayer money wisely.

    • Lynda

      April 28, 2022 at 8:50 am

      Great Comment, Beth.

  • Ray Edens

    April 28, 2022 at 6:44 am

    So sorry you feel this way…but alas, last time I looked, I 75 & I 95 both have northbound lanes…

    • Lynda

      April 28, 2022 at 8:58 am

      I hope all of the supporters of impulsive deSantis use a northbound lane. Florida needs more voters who want the real problems of Florida (property and auto insurance, polluted water and supply chain issues) tackled by a governor and her/his administration. No more using government powers to punish opponents causing personal hurt feelings.

  • Lynda

    April 28, 2022 at 8:49 am

    The lack of understanding of outcomes by deSantis before he pressured his Republican legislature into killing the Reedy Creek Improvement District, is a vivid illustration of how unfit deSantis is to be President. deSantis reacted impulsively by trying to “punish” Disney for opposing his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation which was fast-tracked without appropriate public comments or even complete committee hearings

    deSantis may believe Florida taxpayers may not have to pay Disney’s lawful bond debt of a billion $’s, however there is no reason to believe him since he didn’t do research before this probable unconstitutional law was impulsively passed.

    desantis is too impulsive, too quick to lash out to opponents and unable to control his temper tantrums when he faces opposition. (He yelled at high school students wearing the masks their parents approved when recruited to be his background) Not the leader voters want for governor or president after seeing how trump’s temper tantrums damaged the USA.

  • question guy

    April 28, 2022 at 11:42 am

    a question… when “parental rights” comes into effect – which parents get to choose what is OK? Is it by a vote? Is it ‘first come first serve”?

    which parents get to choose?

  • Jewel

    April 30, 2022 at 8:00 pm

    Who gets to vote?
    The patriarchy!
    I think Disney should pull out lock stock and barrel.
    Take a stand Tink!
    Move the Magic Kingdom to higher ground and rejoice!
    Gay or straight,,,
    no one has a right to take you off your path.
    Oregon says GAY.

Comments are closed.


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