Just a few weeks ago, Disney did something that they had never done before — they sued Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Disney has been working hand-in-hand with the Sunshine State for more than 50 years, and things have gone well for the state and the company. However, that mutually beneficial relationship came to a screeching halt just over one year ago when now-fired Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against Florida’s controversial Parental Rights In Education Bill. Since then, the relationship between Disney and Florida has reached an all-time low.
Governor Ron DeSantis did not take kindly to Disney and Chapek being so outspoken against a bill that he supported. Not long after Chapek’s comments, DeSantis and the Florida legislature passed a bill stripping Disney of its right to self-govern. DeSantis then hand-picked a board to oversee Reedy Creek, although no board members have worked in the theme park industry. He has also threatened to build a prison next to Disney. Recently, a bill was passed that puts the Walt Disney World monorail under state inspection.
On April 26, Disney formally filed a lawsuit against the Governor and the new Reedy Creek board. Disney claimed that DeSantis was retaliating against them for exercising their First Amendment sights. DeSantis has said that he is simply putting Disney on the same playing field as everyone else. He said that Disney has been given special treatment for too long. DeSantis has bragged about the actions he has taken against Disney. Disney has noticed and added the governor’s own words to its lawsuit.
On May 10, The Walt Disney Company hosted its second-quarter fiscal earnings call. During the call, Bob Iger was asked about the company’s issues in Florida, and he was very blunt in his answer. Iger doubled down on the lawsuit and said that everything the governor was doing was purely retaliatory.
First of all, I think the case that we filed last month made our position and the facts very clear and that this is really about one thing and one thing only — and that is retaliating against us for taking a position on pending legislation. And we believe that in taking that position, we are merely exercising our right to free speech. Also, this is not about special privileges or a level playing field or Disney in any way using its leverage around the state of Florida.
Iger pointed out that there are nearly 2,000 special districts in the state of Florida. All of those special districts were formed to help promote business in the state. However, the laws passed by the Florida legislature have only targeted one special district — the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Iger said that if DeSantis truly wanted to make things a “level playing field”, then the laws should apply to all of Florida’s special districts, not just the one run by Disney.
DeSantis also noted how much Disney has benefited the state of Florida. Disney is one of the largest private employers in the state, and pays its Cast Members a lot more than the Florida minimum wage. Iger also stated that, because Reedy Creek was a special district, Disney ended up paying MORE in real estate taxes. DeSantis has said that Disney is trying to fight paying its taxes. However, Disney is the largest single taxpayer in Central Florida, paying more than $1 billion in taxes last year alone.
During the February shareholder’s meeting, Iger revealed that Disney was planning on spending $17 billion on the Walt Disney World Resort over the next 10 years. The company also plans on bringing thousands of more jobs to the Resort. However, with the way the company and the Resort are being targeted, those future investments are no longer a certainty.
Iger ended his discussion of the lawsuit by posing a question to listeners and to the Governor — “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more money in taxes, or not?”