Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill in April that takes away Disney’s special tax status that allowed Disney to operate relatively freely in the Sunshine State for over 50 years. Following the move, some social media users claimed that Disney was tax-exempt and would now be forced to pay $200 million in taxes a year.
What did this special tax status mean for Disney, and what will happen now that Disney no longer has it? And is Disney really on the hook to pay $200 million a year? Here’s how we fact-checked it.
Lean on explainers
This story is really complicated and, like with any complicated story, it’s important to get out of your echo chamber and read several articles to make sure you have a full grasp of the issue. There are several in-depth explainers out there about Disney and DeSantis. This one from FactCheck.org was really helpful.
According to their reporting, DeSantis revoked Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, which granted Disney limited governance over building regulations. This also gave Disney the power to maintain its own fire and police departments, utilities, and some control over taxes (more on that later).
The move to abolish the district was seen by some as an act of retaliation against Disney after the company announced that it opposed Florida’s new controversial “Parental Rights in Education” law, known as the Don’t Say Gay bill.
Basically, the law prohibits teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation with kindergarten through third-grade students, and bans lessons for older students unless they are “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” Advocates for the law say this is to protect parents’ rights, but people who oppose the law argue that it’s anti-LGBTQ+ and will be harmful for LGBTQ youth.
After Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticized the bill, DeSantis reacted by calling Disney “woke,” and moved to revoke Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Now we’re back where we started. But will this move hike up Disney’s taxes?
@mediawise Keep an eye out for satirical news — like this story from “USA Taters” #medialiteracy #factcheck #disney ♬ Lazy Sunday – Official Sound Studio
See what multiple sources are saying
According to CNBC, by dissolving the district, the two counties that cover Disney — Orange and Osceola — will be forced to fund their own fire and police departments. Forbes reported that this move could instead result in a $163 million yearly tax break for Disney, since they would no longer have to pay for some of those Reedy Creek services. According to the article, local Florida officials are concerned that this could result in a “catastrophic” strain on local taxpayers.
According to PolitiFact, the claim that Disney was tax-exempt and will have to pay $200 million in taxes per year is false. In reality, while the tax district gave Disney several privileges, it never made the theme park tax exempt. PolitiFact linked to the company’s disclosure, which shows that Disney actually paid $170 million in state and local taxes in the 2021 tax year. As for the claim that Disney would owe $200 million in taxes, PolitiFact also reported that that number came from Republican State Rep. Spencer Roach, but they couldn’t find any evidence that supported it.
Not Legit. Disney was never tax-exempt, and professional fact-checkers and journalists haven’t found any evidence that the company would be forced to pay $200 million in taxes per year. While the governor says local taxpayers won’t have to take on the debt, tax experts aren’t so sure, since a formal plan hasn’t been released.