DeSantis-Endorsed Florida Board Overseeing Special Taxing District Countersues Disney

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The Central Florida Tourism Oversight board, newly installed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to oversee the district where Walt Disney World is located, voted on Monday to sue the entertainment studio. This comes just days after Disney filed a lawsuit against the board, for what they perceive as retaliatory behavior by the governor.

“Since Disney sued us –- yes, we didn’t sue Disney, Disney sued us –- we have no choice now but to respond,” Martin Garcia, chairman of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board of supervisors, said. “Yes, we’ll seek justice in our own backyard.”

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Disney’s original lawsuit stems from DeSantis and the rest of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s board discovering that a meeting held by the former Reedy Creek Improvement District board, which had been operating and overseeing Walt Disney World without incident since the late 1960s, had passed decrees earlier this year that made DeSantis’ new squad impotent. In essence, the decrees limited their oversight to the construction of maintenance of roads within the district – and only with Disney’s permission.

This, of course, made DeSantis fly off the handle. He’d been feuding with the company for more than a year, after former CEO Bob Chapek made a late and clumsy response to DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In the weeks after the bill had been introduced, Chapek stayed quiet while discontent from Disney employees (or “cast members” in Disney-speak) grew, eventually leading to a company-wide walk out and several business units decrying the lack of involvement. When Bob Iger returned as CEO late last year, he was more pointed in his critique of DeSantis and what he saw as retaliatory behavior, calling the governor “anti-Florida” and “anti-business” during an earnings call. As a response, DeSantis joked that he might build a prison on Disney-adjacent land.

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Today, the members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District voted unanimously to sue Disney in state court in the Orlando area, as well as defend itself in federal court in Tallahassee, where the entertainment company filed its lawsuit last Wednesday. Disney had asked a judge to void DeSantis’ takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District and restore the power to Disney, which it had enjoyed for the past 55 years. (The original deal was struck when Walt Disney himself was looking at a possible ski resort concept in California; without the special provisions, it’s unclear if Walt Disney World would have been built at all.)

Walt Disney World remains the state’s biggest employer and pays an enormous amount of taxes while also maintaining the district where Walt Disney World resides, including roadways, ecological areas and a massive public transportation system that involves boats, buses and monorails.

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