Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that the state of Florida rather than local governments could assume control of abolished Walt Disney World special district. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
May 16 (UPI) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested Monday that the state rather than local governments could assert jurisdiction over the Walt Disney Company's sprawling amusement park properties.
The administrative and debt responsibilities for Disney's soon-to-be-abolished Reedy Creek Improvement District were widely thought to be heading to city and county governments in the area after DeSantis last month signed a bill dissolving it.
The special district, which since 1967 has allowed Disney to act as its own private government at Walt Disney World, was eliminated by the state Legislature's Republican majority amid a feud with the entertainment giant over its opposition to the "Parental Rights in Education" law, which critics have dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill.
But rather than devolving to local government, the district's jurisdiction could instead be absorbed by the state, DeSantis told reporters during an event at Seminole State College in Sanford, Fla.
The district's dissolution, which is set to come into effect by June 2023, has prompted concerns from city and county officials that local Central Florida taxpayers could be on the hook for its $766 million debt load.
Some municipal law experts have warned its debt obligations and tax revenues would be transferred to Osceola and Orange counties and the small cities of Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake under existing state laws.
The abolition measure doesn't specify how the bonds will be paid, but DeSantis assured while signing the bill, "We're going to take care of all that. Don't worry. We have everything thought out."
Democratic state lawmakers have criticized eliminating the district, asserting it was done to punish Disney for opposing discrimination against gay and transgender youth and rushed through in haste without proper economic analysis.
State Sen. Linda Stewart told WKMG-TV this month she had heard DeSantis was planning to create a new district run by the state.
"Therefore the debt will be paid, if this were the case, by the state of Florida, for over a billion dollars," she said.
On Monday, DeSantis indicated that he and Republican legislative leaders are indeed weighing the idea of the state assuming the responsibilities for the district.
"Even though there are ways you could potentially have local communities absorb jurisdiction over Disney, after seeing them threatening to raise taxes on their citizens, we are not going to be in a situation where we're just going to be giving them local control," he said. "[It's] more likely that the state will simply assume control and make sure that we're able to impose the law and make sure we're collecting the taxes."