Taxpayers sue Florida governor over anti-Disney law

The Florida residents say the state’s dissolution of the corporate giant’s private government — and its special tax status — will burden them with more than $1 billion in bond debt.

MIAMI (CN) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis violated the rights of taxpayers when he signed a law removing Disney’s self-governing status, three residents claim in a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

In the 11-page complaint, Michael Foronda, Edward Foronda and Vivian Gorsky — all of whom live near the Walt Disney World theme park and resort — say the state’s actions will saddle them and other taxpayers with Disney’s bond debt estimated at more than $1 billion.

“Plaintiffs, who are property owners in the surrounding counties, fear that they will now have to assume the tax burden that Disney previously assumed under the special tax status,” the complaint states. “Their fear is well founded, and it is through this taxpayer lawsuit and mandamus action that they are able to protect their rights.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, names the Republican governor, Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee and Florida Department of Revenue Director Jim Zingale as defendants. DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The GOP-controlled Florida Legislature voted to remove Disney’s self-governing status last month, following a battle over the corporation’s opposition to the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. DeSantis signed the bill, SB 4C, a few days later.

The law will dissolve independent special districts created before 1968, including the Reedy Creek Improvement District that contained Walt Disney World, in June 2023 unless a new agreement is reached.

The company lobbied for the special district more than 50 years ago so that it could act as a county government. Disney owns the roads and utilities in the 25,000-acre district and also operates a police force and fire department there.

Unless Disney and the state government reach another agreement, the special district will dissolve and all assets and liabilities will be transferred to local governments, according to the bill’s language. Disney would also lose the ability to construct new buildings or roads without local oversight and potentially cumbersome zoning restrictions.

The law is widely considered to be retaliation for Disney’s opposition to the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, known more commonly as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity topics from kindergarten through third grade. Disney heavily criticized the bill, which was signed into law by DeSantis in March, and vowed to end any political contributions to state lawmakers.

The federal lawsuit makes note of this, claiming DeSantis “intended to punish Disney for a First Amendment protected ground of free speech,” which “directly resulted in a violation of plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process of law.”

The plaintiffs also allege stripping Disney of its special status, and burdening residents with debt and some public safety responsibilities now paid for by the theme park, violates the Florida Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Disney has so far stayed mum on the issue, though the Reedy Creek Improvement District did send a message to bondholders last week reminding them that the law establishing the special district mandates all debts must be paid before changing its status.

“In light of the state of Florida’s pledge to the district’s bondholders, Reedy Creek expects to explore its options while continuing its present operations, including levying and collecting its ad valorem taxes and collecting its utility revenues, paying debt service on its ad valorem tax bonds and utility revenue bonds, complying with its bond covenants and operating and maintaining its properties,” the statement reads.

The plaintiffs are represented by Miami-based attorney William Sanchez.

2 thoughts on “Taxpayers sue Florida governor over anti-Disney law

    1. Hello Jeff. I really hope that the GOP pay a huge price for their bigotry and racism. But the fact is their base loves it. The majority of registered Republican voters approve of the bigotry, racism, and the attacks the Republican elected officials are making on women, POC, and the LGBTQ+. It is a scary world we are experiencing. It is the deliberate rolling back of societal advances to the time before these rights existed. It is driven by a small segment of the public, but it is a loud violent segment that uses threats of hurting others to get what they want.

      Liked by 2 people

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