Disney CEO Robert Iger wasn’t bluffing earlier this month when he said on an investors call that the company was rethinking its plans to increase its investments in Florida amid “retaliation” from Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Now Disney is cancelling plans to build a massive nearly $1 billion office complex in Orlando, costing the state more than 2,000 six-figure jobs.
DeSantis’ ongoing war with Mickey Mouse began just over a year ago, when then-CEO Bob Chapek issued a single press release objecting to the Parental Rights in Education bill (dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its critics) after it passed. Many other companies criticized the legislation in far harsher terms before it passed, and Disney didn’t actually do anything about the bill after that press release, but it was enough to trigger the ire of DeSantis, who is expected to launch a presidential campaign in the coming days.
What soon followed was a series of bills passed by the Florida Legislature at DeSantis’ direction, as he himself bragged in his book, that initially attempted to repeal the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), Disney’s special taxing district, outright, and then left RCID’s core structure intact, renamed it the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), and took the authority to appoint the board members away from the Disney-affiliated landowners and gave that power to the governor.
It is important to note that RCID was not unique and not a tax break, contrary to misperceptions encouraged by DeSantis. There are over 1,800 special taxing districts in Florida, all passed with the consent of the district landowners in order to pay extra taxes for a designated purpose. RCID’s most recent annual budget was roughly $160 million in additional taxes that Disney pays to cover a vast array of services and infrastructure ranging from trash and recycling, landscaping, road and transportation construction and maintenance, fire and emergency services, water and sewer treatment, wetlands mitigation and other environmental protection, etc. Those extra taxes are paid to RCID in addition to the regular property taxes Disney pays to Orange and Osceola County, all while Disney does not ask the counties to provide those services and infrastructure.
In the company’s Q2 earnings call, Iger was asked about the dispute, calling it “plainly a matter of retaliation” that was a betrayal of the “terrific relationship” that Disney had had with Florida “for more than 50 years,” echoing language the Disney lawyers used in the federal lawsuit filed against DeSantis and his puppet board appointees.
As I have previously noted, it is not realistic to suggest that the company move Walt Disney World out of Florida, but Iger’s not-so-veiled threat to curtail the Mouse’s investments in the Sunshine State is “far more plausible,” as shown by how Iger concluded his answer:
(Excerpt) Read more in: Mediaite