In a second-quarter earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Iger lashed out at the Florida government’s vendetta against the company.
Without mentioning Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) or other Republican state lawmakers who have done everything in their power to strip Disney of its autonomy, Iger declared that “this is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation.”
“One question: Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes — or not? We’ve built a business that employs, as we’ve said before, over 75,000 people and attracts tens of millions of people to the state.”
DeSantis and the Florida GOP have been after Disney since it spoke out in opposition to the state’s Don’t Say Gay law.
“And we believe that in us taking that position, we are merely exercising our right to free speech,” Iger said. “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 then addressed the fact that DeSantis signed a bill intended to strip The Walt Disney Company of its control over the 39-square mile Reedy Creek Improvement District surrounding Disney World, pointing out that Reedy Creek was far from the state’s only special district.
“There are about 2,000 special districts in Florida, and most were established to foster investment and development where we were one of them. 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.”
He continued, “We all know there was no concerted effort to do anything to dismantle what was once called Reedy Creek special district until we spoke out on the legislation. So this is plainly a matter of retaliation while the rest of the Florida special districts continue operating basically as they were. “
Disney, he said, paid over $1.1 billion in local and state taxes last year and is “the largest taxpayer in Central Florida.” He said the company was planning to invest 17 billion dollars in Florida over the next 10 years, “which is what the state should want us to do.”
Disney has filed a lawsuit against DeSantis that alleges “a targeted campaign of government retaliation” in response to the company criticizing the Don’t Say Gay law.
After Disney spoke out against the law, DeSantis continuously and publicly criticized the company, calling it an “unaccountable Corporate Kingdom” that had “extraordinary special privileges.” He then signed a bill abolishing Disney’s self-governance over its district.
However, his board appointees quickly learned that the previous board snuck in a last-minute development agreement with Disney, allowing it to maintain much of its autonomy, rendering the new board rather powerless for decades.
In response, DeSantis threatened to build a prison next to Disney and called for state oversight of Disney World’s rides. He also threatened to tax Disney’s hotels and impose tolls on roads that lead into the entertainment company’s theme parks.
The lawsuit accuses DeSantis and state officials of a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint.” The Republican-led effort, the lawsuit alleges, “now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”
DeSantis’s feud with Disney has caused him to lose significant favor with his party. A recent Politico exposé revealed that both Democrats and Republicans in the Florida state legislature had had enough of the governor’s revenge-fueled agenda.
Prominent Republican donors have also expressed concern that DeSantis is not as viable a presidential candidate as he once was. To many, he has become nothing more than the butt of a joke.