Walt Disney wanted to build his own city, so he started buying up swampland in Florida. Since then, his company and the state have both benefited from their relationship. But in the past few months, their relationship has grown much worse. A fight that started when the Walt Disney Company spoke out against a Florida law ended last week when Disney sued the governor of the state and a few other people involved. Now, the district that runs Walt Disney World has said that it will sue Disney back. This means that Disney will only be suing itself.
When Florida decided to make the Reedy Creek Improvement District in 1967, its borders exactly matched the land owned by the Walt Disney Company that was going to be used to make Walt Disney World. So, the district was paid for by taxes on the people who lived inside its borders, which meant Disney World. Even though the resort and the district were both “entities,” they worked together. Now, that has changed, and the two are fighting against each other.
Why Disney World will pay for both sides of the lawsuit
A new law in Florida changed the Reedy Creek Improvement District into the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and made a new board made up of people that Governor Ron DeSantis chose himself. The new board recently took steps to undo a land deal made between Disney and the previous board. This led Walt Disney World to sue the state over the whole thing, saying that the company is being punished for speaking out against state law, which is against the First Amendment.
This morning, during a special meeting of the CFTOD (via Laughing Place), the board voted to countersue the Walt Disney Company. However, since all the money the board has comes from taxes paid by Walt Disney World, the resort is functionally paying for both sides of these lawsuits. The board has also indicated that it may raise taxes on the district, and therefore on Disney, in order to pay for the lawyers that will be fighting the suit.
The fact that Disney will be paying for both sides of this ongoing legal battle will make it very expensive, but it’s clear that was taken into account when the lawsuit was filed. Walt Disney World has had a lot of control over what happened inside the resort for more than 50 years. However, because it was in a special district, Disney had to take care of a lot of its own municipal needs.
Why Florida and Disney are suing each other: All of this started when Florida passed a law that many people called “Don’t Say Gay.” Fans and Cast Members both wanted Disney, which at the time was the state’s largest single-site employer, to speak out against the law, which it did under CEO Bob Chapek. But almost right away after the public statement, plans to end Reedy Creek were made.
Even though Florida’s laws don’t mention Disney by name, they only affect the former Reedy Creek Improvement District because of how they were written. Large theme parks in the state used to be exempt from new rules about inspections of attractions, but those rules only apply to Walt Disney World. They do not apply to Universal Orlando Resort or SeaWorld. Florida has a lot of special districts like this one, but none of them have been changed like this one has.
Since then, Disney’s current CEO, Bob Iger, has talked about the Florida fight in public. He said that Disney will continue to invest in Florida, but that the governor’s actions against the company were bad for business and bad for Florida. All of this seemed like it was headed for court, and unless something unexpected happens, that’s where it will go.