ORLANDO, Fla. - The "Most Magical Place on Earth" is back in the headlines.
A new 72-page audit, released on Dec. 4 by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Committee (CFTOD), details Disney’s 56-year history in the Sunshine State, and according to the report, the creation of Reedy Creek, which the committee described as a "special district that facilitated the most egregious exhibition of corporate cronyism in modern American history."
University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett said the report does not reveal anything to those up to date on the topic who don't already know, and he cautions readers to consider the source.
"It kind of restates the obvious, but kind of puts it in a way that makes it seem somehow people didn’t really know what was going on, or they didn’t realize the extent to which Disney controlled this district, when in fact, of course, everybody knew that when they entered into this agreement," Jewett said. "In one degree, the district did control this, but in another, they hired some other people to write it... but I think the people that wrote it understood what was required of them by the district, like what the district was looking for. So, they put a certain slant on it."
According to Jewett, the audit was legally required. The oversight committee, which was appointed by Gov.Ron DeSantis, had one year to publish it following the disbandment of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
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"Disney, has already in response to this report, said… and Disney’s lawyers have said, just because Disney had a lot of perks under this agreement, doesn’t take away from the fact you’re still trying to take it away to punish us," Jewett said. "The governor and the legislature, sometimes have actually admitted that in public, that they were doing this to punish and control Disney."
Punishment, Jewett said, is in response to Disney’s public disagreement with DeSantis’ "parental rights in education" law – which critics refer to as the "don’t say gay" law.
"The Disney vs. DeSantis battle has been quiet over the last few months, relative to how it was in the beginning," Jewett said. "This was just the top-line story over and over again. Now, it’s devolved into a long court battle and not so much in the public eye. Both the governor and Disney, for different reasons that this is probably not a great thing for them to continue to harp about publicly."
Jewett added that for both Disney and Gov. DeSantis, it is probably not best for them "to continue to harp about publicly."
The audit, according to Jewett, will likely be entered as evidence in both ongoing Disney legal battles – one at the state level, another in the federal courts.
FOX 35 reached out to Disney for a statement, to which it responded:
"This report is an exercise in revisionist history. It is neither objective nor credible and only seeks to advance CFTOD’s interests in its wasteful litigation that could derail investment within the district. Further, it does not change the fact that the CFTOD board was appointed by the governor to punish Disney for exercising its Constitutional right to free speech. This report also comes on the heels of numerous reports in the media which have raised legitimate concerns around the governance of the district under its new leadership. While the board may wish to undermine Disney’s ability to continue investing in the region, we are extremely proud of our impact on the Central Florida economy over the past half-century, and we remain committed to maintaining the highest quality experience for the tens of millions of guests who visit Walt Disney World each year."