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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — (AP) — At Walt Disney World’s first private governance meeting since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a move to dissolve it next year, officials said Wednesday they were still confused about what the new legislation meant, even as some ripple effects were beginning to be felt.

The government administrator, called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, said expansion of a solar power project could be delayed due to financial challenges related to the legislation, and the district’s firefighters’ union raised concerns about what dissolution could mean. for members. ‘Benefits for life.

After the meeting, Donald Greer, who has been a member of the Reedy Creek board of supervisors since 1975, said the board couldn’t give clear answers on those issues because “we don’t know where we’re going.”

“The district may have an answer as soon as we know what it means, but I don’t know if anyone knows what it means. I don’t think anyone has figured it out,” Greer said.

The dissolution measure quickly passed the Republican-controlled state House without a public study of its impact, and DeSantis hastily signed it into law. The move came in a Republican push to punish Disney for his opposition to another new law banning gender identity and sexual orientation instruction in elementary school, which critics call “Don’t say gay.”

For the governor, the dispute was the last front of a culture war he has fought politics related to race, gender and the coronavirus, battles that DeSantis has seized on to become one of the most popular Republicans in the country and a likely presidential candidate in 2024.

The day before DeSantis signed the bill into law, the Reedy Creek Improvement District sent a statement to investors saying it would continue financial operations as usual. The district wrote that its agreement with the state prohibits Florida from limiting or altering the district’s ability to collect taxes or meet its bond obligations.

Critics of the dissolution bill have warned that taxpayers in neighboring counties could end up saddled with about $1 billion in district debt. DeSantis has dismissed those concerns, saying additional legislation would be drafted to clarify the future of such special districts in the state.

At the Reedy Creek meeting Wednesday, district administrator John Classe said a developer has faced challenges funding a planned expansion of a solar power program, meaning it could be delayed.

Jon Shirey, the head of the Reedy Creek Firefighters Union, which represents about half of the 400 private government employees, called on supervisors to assure their members that their jobs and benefits will be preserved, as they have been kept in the dark about what the effect is going to be. Firefighters, particularly retirees, are worried about losing their guaranteed lifetime health insurance, he said.

“We have been told to stay quiet, not to talk to the media, not to participate in current events,” Shirey told supervisors. “We have been told that the district leadership will tell the story. They will be the ones to deliver the message. I ask you, ‘What is that message?’”

Supervisors did not respond and, in fact, spent little time on legislation that poses an existential threat to the 55-year-old Reedy Creek Improvement District. Classe told supervisors that his workers would continue to work with the same “high standards and professionalism that they have always had as we learn what this means legally.”

Supporters of dissolving Reedy Creek have argued that it removes an unfair advantage the entertainment giant has over other theme parks, including the ability to issue bonds and set its own zoning standards.

At an event Monday, the governor assured a cheering crowd that Disney bond debts would not fall on taxpayers.

“Under no circumstances will Disney be able to default on its debts, we will make sure of that,” DeSantis said.

Credit rating agency Fitch Ratings has placed Reedy Creek on a “negative watch” list, indicating that the private government’s ratings could remain the same or could be downgraded. A downgrade would make lending more difficult for Reedy Creek.

Another rating agency, S&P Global Ratings, said that among the questions left unanswered by the new law were whether Reedy Creek would be reconstituted after its dissolution next year, how utility operations and debt would be transferred to neighboring governments if come to that and how neighboring governments would raise taxes to secure Reedy Creek’s debt.

Under the law, Reedy Creek was set to expire in June 2023. The lack of public responses from Reedy Creek leaders about the new law may stem from fears that “the governor will find their remarks hostile and that will complicate things,” Shirey said, who added that he is optimistic, the legislators will watch over the interests of the district’s first responders.

“We have 14 months and a lot can change between now and then,” Shirey said.

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Izaguirre reported from Tallahassee, Florida

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP.


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