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DeSantis' office confirms a plan is brewing to shield local taxpayers from Disney fight fallout

John Raoux

The DeSantis administration said he doesn’t make “U-turns" after a report that a plan is in the works to reverse a law that eliminated Disney’s special tax district status.

The DeSantis administration has indicated a plan is brewing to help shield taxpayers in the wake of its feud with the Walt Disney Co. that led to the a law that will dissolve the company's special tax district status.

However, it added that a report from Financial Times that a reversal of the law mischaracterized discussions, noting Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t make “U-turns."

Disney ran afoul of Republicans over the entertainment company's criticism of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law, so the Legislature voted in April to end Disney’s ability to operate semi-independently of the state. The new law effectively dissolved Disney's special taxing district, called Reedy Creek, effective next year.

In response, Disney warned its bond debt of nearly $1 billion could fall on Florida taxpayers.

The spat began after Disney's former chief executive, Bob Chapek, publicly criticized the parents law, which bans instruction on gender and sexual identity to public school students in kindergarten through third grade. It also mandates such discussions must be age-appropriate in higher grades.

Opponents dubbed the measure the "Don't Say Gay" law. Chapek spoke out against it after facing pressure from some Disney employees over his perceived silence. When he did comment, he angered the state's Republican leaders, including Gov. Ron DeSantis.

In November, Chapek stepped down as Disney's CEO and was replaced by the company's former head, Bob Iger. According to CNBC, Iger apologized to Disney employees for the company getting involved in the political fray.

“I was sorry to see us dragged into the that battle, and I have no idea exactly what its ramifications are,” he said regarding the company fallout from Chapek's comments.

It wasn't clear what effect the change in Disney leadership would have on plans for the taxing district.

During an August interview on the "Bond Buyer" podcast, the state’s bond finance director, Ben Watkins, noted lawmakers always intended to come back later to spell out how the dissolution of Reedy Creek would work.

Watkins told the podcast that the state would create an entity to assume Disney’s debts, while also placing state appointees onto that entity's board in an oversight role. Florida taxpayers, he said, would be off the hook while Disney would pay the bill.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.