Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s (R) appointed board overseeing Disney’s governing district is trying to take away park benefits that Disney has offered to district employees and their families for decades.
A press release from the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District details a letter sent to the Florida Inspector General. The letter alleges that the employee perks are part of a Disney “scheme to funnel millions of taxpayer dollars to Disney as season passes.”
Most LGBTQ+ people in the state say the state’s attacks on trans rights make them feel less safe.
The board referred to the benefits the employees have enjoyed – such as discounts on hotels, food, beverages, and merchandise — as “government-paid handouts.” The board said this is a scheme because the district pays the costs of these perks while Disney pockets the money. It said that in 2022, the perks cost taxpayers $2.5 million.
Get the Daily Brief
The news you care about, reported on by the people who care about you:
Richard Foglesong, a professor at Rollins College and author of a book about the governance of Disney World, told Fortune that the perks don’t seem like a taxpayer scam. He explained that they are more like an employee benefit, in the way that a university professor may receive free tuition for relatives or free tickets to a sporting event.
DeSantis took control of Disney’s special tax district in Orlando amidst his battle with the company over its opposition to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
DeSantis signed a bill abolishing Disney’s self-governance over its district in February. The bill also allowed him to create a self-appointed five-member board to oversee government services in Disney’s district.
Disney is currently suing DeSantis, his board, and other state government officials in federal court, accusing the governor of “a targeted campaign of government retaliation.”
In addition to stripping Disney of control over its special tax district under which it has operated for years, DeSantis has threatened to build a prison next to Disney and called for state oversight of Disney World’s rides. Florida Republicans also threatened to tax Disney’s hotels and impose tolls on roads that lead into Disney World as well as shut down its famous 15-mile monorail.
DeSantis has also repeatedly threatened and railed against Disney in public, saying “I think they crossed the line… We’re going to make sure we’re fighting back when people are threatening our parents and threatening our kids.” Soon after, he told conservative commentator Dave Rubin, “I thought it was a mistake for Disney to get involved and I told them, ‘You shouldn’t get involved, it’s not going to work out well for you.”
He has also called it an “unaccountable Corporate Kingdom” that had “extraordinary special privileges.”
Last week, DeSantis encouraged Disney to drop its government retaliation lawsuit, saying his administration had basically “moved on” from the dispute. However, local attorney Jacob Schumer told WFTV that he expects Disney will win its court case against DeSantis because the governor’s and legislature’s actions represent a clear-cut instance of retaliation, violating Disney’s constitutionally protected free speech rights.