Facebook posts – Walt Disney World was not tax-exempt in Florida, contrary to social media claims

Facebook posts – Walt Disney World was not tax-exempt in Florida, contrary to social media claims

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill to repeal a decades-old agreement that allowed the Walt Disney Company to operate as an independent government around its 25,000-acre theme park complex.

The April 22 move came after Disney, the state’s largest employer, voiced opposition to a new law barring classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, which could affect students in older grades as well. 

It is unclear whether Florida’s actions could have financial implications for Disney that stretch beyond its Orlando-area theme parks. Still, social media users were quick to make conclusions. 

“DeSantis erases Disney’s tax exempt law. Will cost Disney $200 Mil in taxes. Per year,” read an April 21 caption alongside a photoshopped image of DeSantis standing in front of a trash can with Mickey and Minnie Mouse’s heads peeking out.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The Facebook post propped up many inaccuracies about the impact of the new law, and it mischaracterized the privileges the tax district originally awarded Disney. 

Disney did not respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment. 

Disney already pays taxes in Florida

Reedy Creek, a special taxing district for the Walt Disney World Resort that acted with the authority of a county government, was created in 1967 to lure the entertainment giant to Orlando. 

Under the agreement, Disney was responsible for building and maintaining municipal services like power, roads, and fire protection — which ensured that the residents of Orange and Osceola counties would not have to pay for such services. 

Disney’s most significant benefit from the arrangement was not financial but rather the autonomy to develop the 25,000 acres it owns in Central Florida without much of the oversight other developers typically have. 

Though the deal provided Disney with several privileges, it did not make the theme park tax-exempt. Disney World contributed more than $780 million in state and local taxes in fiscal year 2021, according to a company disclosure.

The Facebook post’s claim that Disney will now have to pay $200 million in taxes annually appears to be based on the false premise that Disney wasn’t already paying taxes.

The $200 million figure seems to be derived from state Rep. Spencer Roach, a Republican from North Fort Myers. He told NBC News that Disney had avoided around $200 million in property taxes that surrounding counties could have collected.  

The article noted that Roach’s Democratic colleagues and officials in Central Florida questioned his math and the claim that Disney has not paid property taxes. 

Roach did not respond to our request for comment.

“There’s this perception that Reedy Creek somehow gave Disney property tax breaks,” said Scott Randolph, Orange County’s tax collector. “It does not do that.”

Under the new law, Disney’s deal with Florida ends June 1, 2023.

The dissolution of the Reedy Creek district will likely have financial consequences for Orange and Osceola counties unless officials take future action, according to the state Senate’s financial impact analysis. For example, the district’s bond debt could be transferred to those counties, the analysis said. Fitch Ratings, a credit rating provider, estimates that debt is $1 billion.

The new law might also make those counties responsible for services previously covered by the company, like fixing roads or providing law enforcement. Disney paid $105 million for those services, according to tax filings submitted to Florida’s Department of Revenue. 

“The bill will have an indeterminate fiscal impact on residents and businesses currently served by a special district dissolved by the bill,” the Senate analysis said. “Such residents and businesses may experience a change in services previously provided by the special district and related assessments and taxes imposed.”

DeSantis at a news conference rebuffed these concerns. He said he has “everything thought out,” alluding to future legislation.

Our ruling

A Facebook post said DeSantis “erased Disney’s tax exempt law. Will cost Disney $200 Mil in taxes. Per year!”

DeSantis did not “erase” any tax-exempt status for Disney. That misconstrues the special taxing district status that is in the process of being removed. 

We could not find evidence to substantiate the $200 million tax figure cited in the claim. The financial impact of the legislation on Disney’s tax bill remains unclear. 

We rate this claim False.

Source: PolitiFact.

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