If there’s one thing to learn from the long, long legal battle between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Walt Disney World, it’s that the House of Mouse clearly has some bite. About a month after Florida lawmakers contested a last-minute document the Walt Disney company pushed out prior to the takeover of their resort’s special tax district, another agreement wresting power away from the state has been uncovered.
Per Reuters, Martin Garcia, the chairman of the DeSantis-appointed board assigned to oversee Disney World’s special tax district, said during a public meeting on Wednesday that an agreement signed in February by the old Disney-appointed board has been uncovered. The agreement, made between the board and a Disney subsidiary that provides utility services to Walt Disney World, extended the contract with the subsidiary until 2032, meaning the Disney Corporation can set their own utility rates until that year.
Probably not coincidentally, DeSantis, the main driving force behind the push to strip Disney’s theme parks of their self-governing status, will not be around the state by then; the governor is currently serving his second and last term in the Florida office, and won’t be able to run again. According to Garcia, the current board is currently evaluating and may potentially contest the “legality” of the agreement.
“Last Friday afternoon I learned for the first time about one of these new 11th hour agreements entered into between Disney and the district. This one relates to our utility services,” Garcia said. “We’ll have to evaluate the legality of that agreement, that essentially enables Disney to set their utility rates. I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
The news comes the same week that DeSantis announced that he filed a new bill; to the Florida legislature, which would nullify a contract Disney’s old board signed the day before the state took control of the district. That document approved a 30-year development agreement that stripped the board members of decision-making, and, in a particularly wild clause, stipulated that its terms would remain valid until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England.”
“They thought they could create some type of development agreement that would render everything that we did null and void,” DeSantis said. “That’s not gonna fly.”
For those who need a refresher on the multi-chapter and largely pointless feud between DeSantis and Disney, the situation goes all the way back to March 2022, after the then-CEO of Disney Bob Chapek publicly criticized DeSantis’ “Parental Rights in Education Act,” or the Don’t Say Gay Bill, which severely limits the discussion of gender or sexual identity in public schools. Chapek only responded after Disney was criticized for remaining silent and donating to groups that backed the bill, but the betrayal was so great that DeSantis went scorched earth on the entire company.
In April last year, DeSantis signed off on legislation that would dissolve what was then known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special tax district that encompasses Walt Disney World. Established in 1967, the tax district has been controlled by board members appointed by Disney, allowing the company to tax itself, and destroying the tax district would put the company directly under Florida’s governmental control.
After Chapek (i.e. the guy that DeSantis was actually mad at) got canned as CEO by Disney in December, it briefly looked like Florida and Disney would play nice and come to a compromise. Eventually, instead of eliminating the district outright, a bill was passed that renamed it the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and gave Florida power to elect board members. Clearly, though, that didn’t end the war.
Earlier this month, current Disney CEO Bob Iger, who returned to the company after leaving the post in 2020, publicly called DeSantis and Florida’s beef against his company “anti-business” and “anti-Florida,” going as far as to claim it was a violation of the company’s constitutional rights. Since DeSantis began his plans to eliminate Disney’s self-governance, the deal has been criticized, as it could potentially result in massively increased taxes for Florida residents.
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