Recently Jonathan Chait captured why I've been keeping an eye on Florida's Governor, Ron DeSantis.
The threat of right-wing authoritarianism in the United States has lodged itself in the public mind in the model of January 6: A candidate for office refuses to accept defeat and then gins up phony legal complaints escalating into violence. But the more durable and successful model is the pattern used by strongmen like Viktor Orban, which does not require a violent assault on the state but instead employs a combination of legal methods...
The methods Chait identifies as those used by Orban include:
- stacking legislative districts,
- using state power to bully corporations into support for the ruling party,
- marginalizing independent media and exploiting state-controlled pseudo-journalistic alternatives, and
- seizing control of the education system.
- Disney took a public stand against the governor's "don't say gay" bill.
- In retaliation, DeSantis signed a bill to terminate all Florida special tax districts created prior to 1968 (including Disney's Reedy Creek District). It is set to go into effect on June 23, 2023.
- Reedy Creek holds about $1 billion in bond debt that would be passed on to Florida taxpayers if the special district is terminated.
- Reports surfaced that the governor was working behind the scenes to come up with a plan that would make minor changes, but leave the special district in place.
Let's unpack some of that, shall we? The only thing that threatened Reedy Creek's responsibility for their outstanding debt was the governor's move to eliminate their status as a special district. When it comes to the district paying its fair share of taxes, here's what you need to know:
In addition to collecting and remitting sales taxes to the state (including the percentage that goes to each county) and Tourist Development Taxes from hotel guests, Disney pays property taxes to Orange and Osceola County at the same millage rate as all other county taxpayers (totaling nearly $300 million from 2015 to 2020). The Florida Constitution does not allow taxpayers within a county to be treated differently unless those taxpayers consent to the creation of a special taxing district to levy additional taxes on top of the regular county property taxes.
And that’s exactly what RCID has been doing for over 50 years. Disney pays additional taxes to RCID (at the highest millage rate in the state) to cover expenditures for government-type functions like building permitting, fire and emergency medical services, a power plant, water and waste treatment, trash and recycling, and construction and maintenance of roadways and waterways.
The annual budget for fiscal year 2022 is more than $160 million, and RCID uses those funds to maintain a higher standard for these various functions than any local, state, or federal government entity would be able to accomplish.
The only part of Frenske's statement that isn't total bullshit is the fact that DeSantis wants to impose a "state-controlled board." As state house representative Anna Eskamani put it, "the main goal is to give DeSantis control over a private company."
Will the governor get away with doing that? Writing for Bloomberg Tax, attorney Jacob Schumer says "not likely."
If Florida attempts to place Reedy Creek under state control, Disney will have a much stronger court case than if the state simply dissolved the district...
Disney’s right to elect its representatives is much stronger than its right to have Reedy Creek exist at all. Disney, as property owner, was granted the statutory right to elect the district’s board of supervisors. If Florida tried to replace it with state political appointees...the state [would be] taking away a landowner’s right to vote for its local representatives—an action courts are much more accustomed to stepping in to prevent.
It is clear that DeSantis is a long way from solving this mess he created. Almost no one in the media is covering that part of the story. Reports tend to accept that the governor's attempt to dissolve Reedy Creek is a fait accompli. That is hardly the case.