How the Disney debacle broke the back of Florida’s conservative consensus | Opinion

This article originally appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.

The Republican retribution against Disney involved with dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District is striking in its swiftness, cattiness, and irrationality. The brazen partisanship that drove the legislation may have also broken the back of the principled conservative consensus that built much of Florida’s prosperity.

Perhaps the most stunning element of the Disney debacle is how objectively bad the legislation is as a matter of policy. Republicans are dismantling one of the most innovative and successful examples of local self-governance in the nation, perhaps even the world.

When Walt and Roy Disney were planning for the development of what is now Disney World, they knew the scale and size of their investment in then rural Central Florida would overwhelm local governments.

Ever entrepreneurial, Disney executives sought ways to efficiently and sustainably manage the water, sewer, roads, housing, and other infrastructure necessary to support the massive development they envisioned. Working with Republican Gov. Claude R. Kirk, the Florida legislature approved the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. 

The district has been a modern marvel of integrated planning and independent governance for 55 years. The District maintains 134 miles of roads, 67 miles of waterways, regional waste management and recycling services, planning and development regulation, electricity, and employs 2,000 vendors to provide public services. The state legislature is now stripping it all away. 

Unfortunately, Disney became the target of Republican partisans. State Rep. Randy Fine, an Ivy league educated Nevada transplant, probably said it best when he told CNBC he brought “California values to Florida. Floridians said, ‘You are a guest. Maybe you don’t deserve the special privileges anymore.’” 

But “Floridians” had no meaningful say in the decision. The legislation cropped up, sailed through the tightly controlled Republican legislation, and was signed by the governor in less than a week. And it only happened after the issue was shoehorned into a last-minute special session. Local governments were not consulted, nor were local taxpayers or voters. 

In fact, Florida voters were intentionally left out. The decision was made by a legislature where Republicans have super majorities in the statehouse even though more than half of Floridians voted for non-Republican candidates in the last gubernatorial election. Orange and Osceola counties lean Democratic.

In the process, Republicans may have broken the back of the traditional conservatism that built a prosperous state: constitutional governance, rule of law, respect for property rights, local control of governance, and commitment to civil liberties. Now businesses, as Fine gleefully points out, must kowtow to the partisan interests of the ruling party or risk retribution. 

Republican leadership has added a new layer of understanding to President Barack Obama’s 2012 admonition to American business owners when he said, “You didn’t build that.” Economic opportunity is not a right. Building a business is a privilege. What the government gives, the government can take away. 

The full consequences of these decisions are difficult to predict. In the short term, the Democratic leaning voters of central Florida will be saddled with higher taxes and an unwanted debt. Local governments will be submerged in an all-consuming struggle to meet an unfunded mandate from the legislature. 

Ultimately, however, Florida voters will decide whether winning the so-called culture war is worth the cost of undermining the economic prosperity on which some Republicans now seem to take for granted. 

The full consequences of these decisions are difficult to predict. In the short term, the Democratic leaning voters of central Florida will be saddled with higher taxes and an unwanted debt. Local governments will be submerged in an all-consuming struggle to meet an unfunded mandate from the legislature. 

Ultimately, however, Florida voters will decide whether winning the so-called culture war is worth the cost of undermining the economic prosperity on which some Republicans now seem to take for granted. 

The full consequences of these decisions are difficult to predict. In the short term, the Democratic leaning voters of central Florida will be saddled with higher taxes and an unwanted debt. Local governments will be submerged in an all-consuming struggle to meet an unfunded mandate from the legislature. 

Ultimately, however, Florida voters will decide whether winning the so-called culture war is worth the cost of undermining the economic prosperity on which some Republicans now seem to take for granted. 

The full consequences of these decisions are difficult to predict. In the short term, the Democratic leaning voters of central Florida will be saddled with higher taxes and an unwanted debt. Local governments will be submerged in an all-consuming struggle to meet an unfunded mandate from the legislature. 

Ultimately, however, Florida voters will decide whether winning the so-called culture war is worth the cost of undermining the economic prosperity on which some Republicans now seem to take for granted.

 

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D., is director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University.

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