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DeSantis Threatens Hotel Tax, New Development Near Disney World In Feud Escalation

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is looking to escalate his power struggle with The Walt Disney Co. regarding control over the land in and around the Walt Disney World Resort.

DeSantis administration officials are weighing a number of measures to generate state revenue in the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a body long controlled by the entertainment giant. Those include raising taxes on hotels at the resort, instituting tolls on the roads leading to Disney World and kicking off new development around the park, Politico reports.

Florida Republicans voted in February to strip Disney of its longtime control of the land just outside Orlando by allowing DeSantis to appoint five members to a new board replacing the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the body that controlled the planning of the 27,000 acres for nearly 60 years. The move came in apparent retaliation to Disney executives' 2022 comments disparaging the state's so-called Don't Say Gay laws.

In the days before the transition was set to occur, Disney officials and the outgoing Reedy Creek board struck a 30-year development agreement with restrictive covenants that essentially tie the hands of the new body and preempt it from wresting real control from Disney, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

In a Thursday night speech at Hillsdale College in Ohio, DeSantis railed against Disney's move and vowed that the state's push to take over planning of the area would succeed "come hell or high water."

“But now that Disney has reopened this issue, we’re not just going to void the development agreement they tried to do, we’re going to look at things like taxes on the hotels, we’re going to look at things like tolls on the roads,” DeSantis said, according to the Sentinel. “We’re going to look at things like developing some of the property that the district owns.”

DeSantis said the state legislature could take further action against Disney, the largest employer in Central Florida with more than 75,000 workers. The Republican-controlled legislature has worked to pass many of the governor's pet policies, including banning sex education and Black history books from schools, allowing guns to be carried without a permit and allowing developers to supersede local density minimums if they build additional housing.