The first Get Disney bill had been a surprise; the second wasn’t. Ron DeSantis never thought that would be a problem. He hustled so hard for his sneak attack; then he forgot all the reasons people have sneak attacks. For example, so your enemy doesn’t see you spend a few months re-gearing after your first lightning judo move proves poorly considered. DeSantis should’ve yanked the Disney puppet board right at the start. Instead he had to eliminate the district, then find this approach was no-go, then stumble onward to a Plan B that, at the right time, would’ve been far more intelligent than his Plan A, but which was now just another mistake. And somehow, lying beneath this muddle, there’s a dramatic but highly specific founding blunder: the governor forgot that municipal bonds exist.
You don’t see a lot of good question headlines, but here’s one: “Disney World’s Reedy Creek: What happens after the special district is abolished?” The Orlando Sentinel ran this specimen three days after the Florida legislature had already voted to end the district. That means it took the paper a day longer to come up with headline and article than it took lawmakers to review and pass the bill. “The Legislature did not conduct an economic study on the ramifications of dissolving the district,” the article said demurely. “It’s shoot first and ask questions later,” opined a quotable Democrat in the state Senate.
The bill passed 23 days after the Walt Disney Co. said Florida shouldn’t have banned teaching about gayness (to kids in public school through the third grade, now likely to be extended through the 12th). None of this time was spent reflecting on the district’s billion-plus of debt and what would be done about the creditors. As of day 26, the post-elimination plan was still gelling, or getting ready to start pre-gelling. “I think it’s just a matter of getting the teams together and sorting through it,” the Senate president said. “I think it’s that simple.”
Gov. DeSantis, the man who knows the details and never misses a trick, is the force at work here. Everyone who follows the feud between Florida and Disney knows that executing Walt Disney World’s pet little municipality was only the first of the Governor’s two attempts at tackling his foe. The second time around, he replaced the people who ran the municipality, thereby putting it under his thumb. But he had to do this because his first attempt had broken apart on a simple fact, namely that municipalities borrow and do so by means of detailed and unbreakable contracts known as bonds.
Most of us don’t care about this fact, but politicians have to. People have signed for their money, and the municipality will be busy sending them that money for a long time. The law protects this function. You can’t throw away the municipality, not unless you’re going to put up what’s owed the bondholders—in the district’s case, up to $1.7 billion and whatever the years of agreed-on interest payments would be. Whether done as scheduled or speeded up, the payout would most likely mean voters had higher tax bills. In the case at hand, the voters in question were concentrated, not statewide, making for unspread pain and presumably worse anger. Mastermind never thought of this.
Three days after the vote, the bond market seems to have been bemused, as if watching somebody build a campfire in the living room. “It’s a lot of head-scratching, and are they even allowed to do this?” a market analyst told the Sentinel. “It seems like they have a legal hurdle here. They have covenanted to do something.” By the end of 2022, DeSantis was getting that campfire out of there. Before winter was done the legislature had passed Get Mickey 2, putting back the district but giving DeSantis the power to decide who’d run it. With the district intact, the bonds were all right. Of course, Disney had been watching the whole time. Just before the new bill passed, the district’s old board signed away most of their powers to Disney. The new board was duly installed and found they’d been robbed.
That makes two blunders by DeSantis, the first Mouse bill and the second. The read of available facts is that way back when Disney mouthed off about gayness, DeSantis got mad and stopped thinking. Yet he spent the whole time convinced of his sly, effective ruthlessness. DeSantis has talked of how secretly he moved against Disney. Well, he slipped in so fast and ninja-like that he forgot about municipal bonds. Having remembered about municipal bonds, he forgot about speed and stealth. He seems able to be clever about just one thing at a time, which is a good way for a smart politician to be a goddamn idiot.