Florida taxpayers sue Gov. Ron DeSantis for eliminating Disney's special district

Lawsuit claims law violates free speech, rights of taxpayers
Posted at 8:25 AM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 08:53:58-04

ORLANDO, Fla. — Four Central Florida residents are suing state leaders over the decision to eliminate Disney's Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday aims to block the law by claiming it violates free speech and the rights of taxpayers who may be left with the bill.

"It is without question that Defendant Gov. DeSantis intended to punish Disney for a 1st Amendment protected ground of free speech," the lawsuit reads. "Defendant's violation of Disney's 1st Amendment rights directly resulted in a violation of Plaintiffs' 14th Amendment rights to due process of law."

The Reedy Creek Improvement District gave Disney the right to govern itself like a city. It allowed Disney to raise its own revenues to pay for municipal infrastructure expenses like roads, waste services, fire safety and water at Disney World. Reedy Creek also issued bonds and levied taxes on properties within its boundaries, which border the Orlando area, effectively on behalf of Disney.

The dissolution act was passed after weeks of tension between DeSantis and the Walt Disney Co. over the passage of the controversial Parental Rights in Education law, known by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" law.

DeSantis didn't shy away from his reasoning for dissolving the district on Fox News last week.

"I am not comfortable having one company with their own government and special privileges, when that company has pledged itself to attacking the parents in my state," DeSantis said. "When that company has very high-up people talking about injecting pansexualism into programming for young kids, it's wrong. Walt Disney would not want that. And so get back to the mission. Do what you did great. That's why people love the company, and you've lost your way. Maybe this will be the wake-up call that they need to get back on track."

The Orange County tax collector claims that wiping out the district would lead to big tax increases, plus, more than $1 billion in debt would have to get picked up by either the counties or the state.

"The moment that it dissolves, that money's gone. Just gone. And instead, what happens is all the debts and obligations of Reedy Creek get transferred over to Orange County government," Orange County tax collector Scott Randolph told WESH.

Disney recently told investors the state would be unable to resolve the district without paying for the district's outstanding debt obligations of about $1 billion.

DeSantis claimed state lawmakers would pass more bills to make sure that the cost of Reedy Creek's demise won't land on taxpayers, but nothing concrete has been announced.

"There's going to be additional legislative action," DeSantis said. "We've contemplated that. We know what we're going to do, so stay tuned. That'll all be apparent."

The lawsuit was filed by William Sanchez on behalf of three people in Osceola County and one in Orange County. Sanchez is currently running for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat.