News (USA)

DeSantis’s feud with Disney is costing Florida taxpayers millions of dollars

Ron DeSantis
Photo: YouTube screenshot

A budget proposal from the new Gov. Ron DeSantis-appointed board of Disney’s tax district includes an estimated $4.5 million in legal fees for 2024, up from $1.9 million this year and more than triple its average annual fees. District administrator Glen Gilzean called the increase “regrettable,” according to Politico, and acknowledged that it was due to “Disney-induced expenses.”

The district is currently involved in two Disney-related lawsuits. The company is suing DeSantis and his board for “a targeted campaign of government retaliation” in response to the company criticizing his infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law. The board then responded by counter-suing Disney.

Before the feud with Disney began, the district’s annual legal fees were approximately $1.25 million. Gilzean – who resigned this week from his role as chairman of Florida’s ethics commission after claiming he did not know there was a conflict of interest between that role and his role on the district board – said the increase is not only due to the lawsuits but also due to members of the new board obtaining legal advice for new policies.

The board is proposing an overall $12.4 million increase in spending but wants to cut $2.5 million that typically goes toward Disney perks and discounts for district employees.

Massive legal expenses incurred from DeSantis’s feud with Disney aren’t new.

In March, the DeSantis administration contracted two outside law firms to pursue a legal challenge to a maneuver on the part of the entertainment giant to strip the governor’s hand-picked Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board of much of its power.

After DeSantis retaliated against Disney’s opposition to the Don’t Say Gay law by ending the company’s decades-old special zoning agreement and stripping the company of its control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District surrounding Walt Disney World, Disney pulled a fast one on DeSantis and struck a last-minute agreement with the previous board to allow the company to maintain much of its autonomy.

DeSantis’s legal challenges to this move cost the state’s taxpayers $1,300 per hour, in addition to the millions it has already taken to defend DeSantis’s extreme agenda in court. Last year in June, The Orlando Sentinel reported that the state’s legal bills had totaled at least $5.8 million in just five cases.

At the time, Florida state Sen. Tina Polsky (D) blasted the administration for spending taxpayer dollars to defend legally dubious laws designed to boost DeSantis’ political profile ahead of his presidential bid.

“Fiscally conservative Republicans must be thrilled with these expenses,” Polsky said. “Where are your values? What happens with fiscal conservatism when you purposely pass bills that are unconstitutional and you know will be challenged in courts?”

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