Disney agrees to settle lawsuit against DeSantis over revoked self-governing special tax district

The Walt Disney Co. reached a settlement agreement on Wednesday with Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and his Central Florida Tourism Oversight District over the company’s revoked self-governing special tax district, the New York Post reported.

In April, Disney lodged a complaint against the governor for revoking the theme park’s company-selected board and special tax district, the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Disney governed the district for decades. In 2022, the dismantled RCID board was taken over by DeSantis’ new five-member oversight panel, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

Disney accused the governor and several Florida officials of launching a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power” against the company. The lawsuit noted that DeSantis previously expressed a desire to “void” Disney’s development agreement with the state, examine taxes on the theme park’s hotels, and “tolls on the roads.”

Disney’s court filings read, “Today’s action is the latest strike: At the Governor’s bidding, the State’s oversight board has purported to ‘void’ publicly noticed and duly agreed development contracts, which had laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs.”

The company claimed that the governor’s actions ultimately “jeopardize[d]” Disney’s “economic future in the region,” while also “violat[ing] its constitutional rights.”

An investigation conducted by the CFTOD found evidence that the former RCID board used millions of taxpayer dollars to purchase resort passes, merchandise, and other perks from Disney.

“For decades, the former Disney-run RCID used taxpayer funds to provide season passes and amusement experiences to its employees and their family members, cover the cost of discounts on hotels, merchandise, food, and beverages, and give its own board members VIP Main Entrance passes,” the CFTOD claimed. “In 2022 alone, it cost taxpayers over $2.5 million.”

On Wednesday, Disney dropped the lawsuit against DeSantis, agreeing to concede its self-governing powers over the theme park’s district and abandoning a separate lawsuit regarding access to public records. Instead, the two parties have decided to work together to form a new development agreement for the theme park.

Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle stated, “This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district,” the Post reported.

DeSantis declared that his administration was “vindicated” by Disney’s settlement.

“A year ago people were trying to act like all these legal maneuvers were all going to succeed, and the reality is here we are a year later, not one of them has succeeded,” he said. “Every action that we’ve taken has been upheld in full, and the state is better off for it.”

As part of the settlement, DeSantis appointed board members to the CFTOD who are more “sympathetic” to Disney, the Post noted. Earlier this week, the governor’s office reported that Craig Mateer, the founder of CCM Capital Group, was appointed to the board.

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