It has been a few weeks since we talked about the “Don’t Say Disney” act, enacted in a fit of pique by the Legislature. They were sore that Disney workers objected to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and Disney threatened to cut back on campaign contributions.
That is a serious problem for a coin-operated legislature. If no one pays them off, they might have to get real jobs or at least legislate sensibly for the folks back home. No one in Tallahassee likes those prospects.
During the redistricting session, the Legislature voted to abolish the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Not everyone even realized that Walt Disney has its own special tax district, but it does.
Back in 1967, neither Orange County nor Osceola County was much of a muchness. Orlando was a small, sleepy town; the main industry was winter tourists. Kissimmee mostly loaded cattle for shipment to market, and had a big yearly rodeo.
Neither county was prepared to handle something as big as Disney. Instead, the Legislature worked out a scheme where most of Walt Disney World would be its own special tax district. Disney got its own zoning, police and fire-protection powers.
The popular name for it was “Greedy Creek,” because Disney effectively took in a river of money. At least Disney provided their own police and fire at a time when Orange and Osceola counties were woefully unprepared.
Disney also built their own roads. They ran mainly between U.S. Highway 192 and the parking lots. That was when interstates were still being planned.
Over the years, much of Greedy Creek construction has been funded with bonds. They use the state’s tax exemption in order to pay lower interest. There are said to be about a billion dollars of those bonds out there, quietly paying tax-free interest to investors. Well, it was quiet.
This spring, the Legislature decided to shake things up. Sore that Disney threatened to back off on contributions, they decided to abolish Greedy Creek.
The district’s bonds do not just go away. Disney will not step up and write a check; that is not their business model. Neither are Orange and Osceola counties’ taxpayers eager to pay about $575 each.
So, as the Legislature abolishes Greedy Creek, all Floridians get to chip in. It is obvious the Legislature was just lashing out, but you know what Disney is thinking — that kind of revenge sure is sweet!
— Andrews is a DeLand-area attorney and a longtime government critic. For purposes of the column, he finds it convenient that there is so much government to criticize. Andrews owns so few shares of Disney that none of this will make him wealthy.