Ron DeSantis Says He’ll “Win On Every Single Issue” Involving Disney, Vows To Void Florida Theme Park Development Agreement And Threatens Hotel Taxes And Road Tolls
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is escalating his war with The Walt Disney Co., outlining a set of moves against the company in what is amounting to a standoff between a potential 2024 presidential candidate and the entertainment giant.
He said he would seek legislative action to void an agreement that gives Walt Disney World extensive control over development in a district that oversees its sprawling Florida theme park property.
DeSantis also said that his office would be looking at other actions to take against the company, including such things as taxes on Disney World hotels, tolls on roads leading to the theme parks and developing district property near the company’s resorts.
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“What Disney has tried to do is they have tried to say that they should be able to operate outside the context of our constitutional system in Florida,” DeSantis said. “Now, we took this action prior to the election. We won overwhelmingly. They are not superior to the people of Florida. And so come hell or high water, we’re going to make sure that that policy of Florida carries the day, and so they can keep trying to do things, but ultimately, we’re going to win on every single issue involving Disney. I can tell you that.”
His remarks, at an appearance at Hillsdale College in Michigan, came just days after Disney CEO Bob Iger chided the governor’s moves to strip the company of control over the district, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as an act of retaliation. Last year, Disney came out against legislation championed by DeSantis, a parental rights bill — which detractors dub the Don’t Say Gay law.
Iger said that Desantis’ moves were “in effect to seek to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right. That just seems really wrong to me, against any company or individual, but particularly against a company that means so much to the state that you live in.”
DeSantis then led an effort to dissolve the Reedy Creek district, a public entity which oversees the theme park property but had been set up in 1967 in a way that Disney would have control over its board of supervisors. In February, DeSantis signed a bill that stripped the company of its control over the district and replaced the board with members appointed by him and confirmed by the state Senate.
Yet in a twist, the DeSantis-appointed board disclosed last month that, in one of its final meetings, the Disney-controlled district entered into a development agreement with the company that gave Disney World continued sway. Under the terms of the agreement — read it here — Disney has development entitlements over the next 30 years. The district also is bound to construct public facilities and infrastructure as part of a five-year capital improvement schedule. In certain cases, the district is required to secure Disney’s approvals, including for the use of the company name and character. At the latest district meeting, one of the DeSantis appointed members said that the agreement “essentially makes Disney the government.”
Disney has defended the move. “All agreements signed between Disney and the district were appropriate and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government,” the company said in a statement.
At the company’s shareholder meeting this week, Iger said that DeSantis’ actions were “anti-business” and “anti-Florida,” and he noted the jobs, taxes and resources that the company has provided to the state.
DeSantis also has requested a state inspector general to investigate Disney’s development agreement with Reedy Creek.
In his latest remarks, DeSantis appeared irritated by media reports on the battle with Disney and the idea that the company “pulled one over on the state.”
“There will be a lot that comes out over the next month or two, but suffice it to say, the legislature is going to void anything Disney did on the way out the door,” DeSantis said. “But now that Disney has reopened this issue, we’re not just going to void the development agreement they tried to do, we’re going to look at things like taxes on hotels, we’re going to look at things like tolls on the roads, we’re going to look at things like developing some of the property that the district owns.”
In his remarks, he also was clear that the move to strip Disney of control over Reedy Creek was in response to its position on the parental rights bill. “We just had to look at this and say, ‘OK, do they have a quote, First Amendment right to be advocating for gender ideology in Kindergarten? Yeah, I guess. Is that honestly faithful to their fiduciary duty to their shareholders? I don’t think so. But that’s not really in my wheelhouse as governor, but what I can tell you as governor is that under no circumstances should the state of Florida be subsidizing woke activism by allowing them to have their own government. So we took it away.”
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