DeSantis vs Disney: What is the Reedy Creek Improvement Act?

The Ready Creek Improvement Act was signed into law by Florida Gov. Claude Kirk in May 1967

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and some Republican state legislators have floated the idea of repealing the Reedy Creek Improvement Act (RCIA) amid the Sunshine State's ongoing feud with Disney.

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FOX Business provides a roundup of everything you need to know about the Reedy Creek Improvement Act and what a potential repeal would mean.

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What is the Reedy Creek Improvement Act?

The Ready Creek Improvement Act was signed into law in May 1967 by Gov. Claude Kirk in response to lobbying efforts by Disney. The entertainment giant proposed building a recreation-oriented development on 25,000 acres of property in a remote area of Central Florida's Orange and Osceola counties, which consisted of 38.5 square miles of largely uninhabited pasture and swamp land. 

Orange and Osceola County did not have the services or resources needed to bring the project to life, so the state legislature worked with Disney to establish the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special taxing district that allows the company to act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government. 

The district covers Disney's four Florida theme parks, two water parks and one sports complex, 175 lane miles of roadway, 67 miles of waterway, the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, an environmental science laboratory, an electric power-generating and distribution facility, a natural gas distribution system, water and wastewater collection and treatment facilities, a solid waste and recyclables collection & transfer system and over 40,000 hotel rooms and hundreds of restaurants and retail stores.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District is a special taxing district where Disney acts with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.  (Reedy Creek Improvement District)

Under the legislation, RCID has the ability to levy taxes, write building codes, develop and maintain its own infrastructure and build whatever it wants, including an airport or nuclear power plant. The landowners within the RCID, primarily Walt Disney World, are solely responsible for paying the cost of providing typical municipal services such as power, water, roads and fire protection, taking the burden off of Orange and Osceola County taxpayers. 

The RCID receives income from taxes and fees imposed within its boundaries. For 2022, the RCID has an operating budget of more than $169 million, with roughly $164 million of that total coming from ad valorem taxes.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District is run by a five-member board of supervisors, who are elected to conduct the business of the district at monthly meetings and are landowners in the RCID. Votes for the members are proportional to landownership. According to Disney historian Jim Korkis, the company sells supervisors five-acre blocks of undeveloped land, which are then sold back to Disney upon completion of their terms. 

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What services does the Reedy Creek Improvement District provide?

Since its establishment, the Reedy Creek Improvement District has built and maintained 134 miles of roadways and 67 miles of waterways. The district has 2,000 venders, suppliers and contractors who provide public services to the area's 250,000 daily visitors. Reedy Creek's Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services have a response time between six and eight minutes. 

Reedy Creek Improvement District Fire Department Station 4, on Dec. 8, 2021.  (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The RCID manages approximately 60,000 tons of waste, annually recycles 30 tons of aluminum, paper, steel cans, cardboard and plastic containers and tests 22,800 water samples from 1,500 locations to ensure it meets or exceeds quality standards established by the federal and state governments. 

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Calls for the RCIA's repeal

Discussions about repealing the Reedy Creek Improvement Act have come in response to Disney's opposition to the Parental Rights in Education bill, commonly referred to by critics as the ‘Don’t Say Gay' bill. 

The bill, which is slated to go into effect on July 1, prohibits Florida educators from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, with a provision that enables parents to sue if they allege schools or instructors have been in violation. 

After the bill's signing into law on March 28, Disney said it would support efforts by national and state organizations to have it repealed by the legislature or stuck down in the courts. The statement came after criticism from Disney employees and fans alike over the company and CEO Bob Chapek's initial silence surrounding the bill. 

"We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country," the company added.

According to Republican Florida Rep. Spencer Roach, legislators have met at least twice to discuss repealing the Reedy Creek Improvement Act.

"If Disney wants to embrace woke ideology, it seems fitting that they should be regulated by Orange County," Roach tweeted.

Ron DeSantis florida gov

DeSantis claimed during a press confeerence in West Palm Beach, Florida on March 31 that Disney has "lost a lot of pull that they used to have", which he argued is a "good thing" for the state.  ((Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) / Getty Images)

DeSantis claimed during a press conference in West Palm Beach, Florida on March 31 that Disney has "lost a lot of pull that they used to have", which he argued is a "good thing" for the state. 

"The state should be governed by the best interests of the people," he said. "You should not have one organization that is able to dictate policy in all these different realms, and they have done that for many, many years. And if that stops now, which it should, that would be a good thing for Florida." 

"I would say any special privileges that are in law I would like to get rid of generally," DeSantis added. "But I think in this particular case with Disney, I just don’t think you have very many people in the legislature anymore who are going to be able to defend a lot of what has been done over many, many years to have them almost govern themselves over so many things."

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What would the impact of a potential repeal be?

If the law is repealed, Disney will be required to submit to building inspections and planning and zoning controls by Osceola and Orange counties. In addition, the Orlando Sentinel previously reported that it would have to pay fees and taxes it doesn't currently pay, such as impact fees to offset the cost of public services or taxes other property owners pay to fund law enforcement.  

The RCIA's repeal could also potentially impact Disney's plans to move about 2,000 employees in its Parks, Experiences and Products division from California to a new campus being built in Florida's Lake Nona.

A repeal of the Reedy Creek Improvement Act is unlikely to be introduced before 2023, unless a special legislative session is called before then. 

Representatives for Disney, the RCID's board of supervisors and Osceola County did not immediately return FOX Business' request for comment. A spokesperson for Orange County declined to comment.