“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more and pay more taxes or not?” Disney CEO Bob Iger rhetorically asked today of the on-going attacks on the Mouse House by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
“There’s .. a false narrative that we’ve been fighting to protect tax breaks as part of this,’ the politically savvy executive added of the on-going war of words in the media and the courts with the would-be 2024 White House candidate. “But in fact, we’re the largest taxpayer in Central Florida paying over $1.1 billion in state and local taxes last year alone.”
“This is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation,” Iger also noted of Disney’s initially fumbling response to Florida’s discriminating ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law. “And we believe that in us taking that position, we’re merely exercising our right to free speech,” the CEO went on to say echoing language he has used before in the battle with DeSantis.
As Disney embarked on its Florida project in the 1960s, the state passed legislation to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District. That had allowed the company to self-govern on development decisions and to incur bonded indebtedness to finance roads and other types of infrastructure. Earlier this year, DeSantis’ championed state action to strip Disney of its control over Reedy Creek and give oversight of the special district to his own appointees. Seemingly out playing the bully boy governor, Disney has tried to retain some of its autonomy over development, but DeSantis and his board appointees are challenging that too.
Last week, the GOP dominated state House of Representatives passed a land use bill aimed to essentially invalidate Disney’s agreement with the Reedy Creek Improvement District in February, when the special district was still under the company’s control. The bill will have a final Senate vote before going to DeSantis for his signature.
With Iger’s remarks today in mind, the latest chapter of the Disney-DeSantis feud likely will be settled in the courts, at least to some degree.
The company last month sued the governor, claiming that he’s been on a campaign of retribution after Disney publicly opposed a parental rights bill, often dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Disney wants a federal judge to restore its autonomy and authority over its sprawling Florida resort property and nearby land.
In an amended complaint filed earlier this week, Disney also warned that DeSantis and his allies “have made clear they do not care and will not stop,” citing the governor’s pledges to pursue hotel taxes and even toll roads on highways leading into the theme park resorts. The governor’s appointees on the special district that oversees Walt Disney World, meanwhile, are pursuing a state legal claim against the company. They also moved to void a development agreement that Disney entered into with the special district when it was still under the company’s control.
All of which means, as the 2024 campaign heats up, don’t be surprised if the legal battle moves to the Supreme Court where the conservative majority may have to show how pro-business they really are.
On where things are right now, Iger sought a larger perspective on the realities of Disney, Florida and any special status the Disney World owner may or may not have.
“This is not about special privileges or a level playing field or Disney in any way using its leverage around the state of Florida,” the exec said. “But since there’s been a lot said about special districts and the arrangement that we had, I want to set the record straight on that too.”
“There are about 2000 special districts in Florida, and most were established to foster investment in development,” Iger noted. “It basically made it easier for us, and others by the way, to do business in Florida. And we built a business that employs, as we’ve said before, over 75,000 people and attracts tens of millions of people to the state.”
“So, while it’s easy to say that the Reedy Creek Special District that was established for us over 50 years ago benefited us, it’s misleading to not also consider how much Disney benefited the state of Florida.”
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