Disney CEO Comments On Fight With Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
"Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?"
The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger has commented on the ongoing legal battle it is waging against Florida governor Ron DeSantis. As part of the company's latest earnings briefing, Iger said Disney's recently filed lawsuit speaks for itself. That said, he reiterated that it is Disney's belief that DeSantis is trying to strip away Disney's special Reedy Creek district as a means of retaliation for Disney's opposition to the "Don't Say Gay" legislation in Florida.
"This is about one thing and one thing only, and that's retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation. And we believe that in us 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 said.
DeSantis is seeking to remove Disney's "special district" status in Orlando. Walt Disney himself convinced Florida legislators back in the '60s to give him a special district allowing the company to act semi-autonomously on its grounds when the entertainment legend was establishing EPCOT as a real city of the future. The city never panned out. But the Reedy Creek district and special status remained, and Disney has benefitted in a business sense for decades.
Iger pointed out that Florida has more than 2,000 of these special districts--the Daytona Motor Speedway being one of them. These special districts have allowed Disney and others to benefit financially by making it easier to do business. Iger said he recognizes this has been a beneficial thing for Disney, but he also pointed out that Disney's parks in Florida employ over 75,000 people and attract "tens of millions" of people to Florida.
"So, while it's easy to say that the Reedy Creek special district that was established for us over 50 years ago benefited us, it's misleading to not also consider how much Disney benefited the state of Florida," Iger said.
Iger said DeSantis is unfairly singling out Disney's own special district status. If the goal was to create a level playing field and a uniform application of law and governance, that would be one thing, but Iger said that is not what's happening here. The executive also said there is a "false narrative" circling the case about Disney trying to protect its own tax breaks related to the special district status. Iger said Disney is central Florida's largest taxpayer to the tune of more than $1.1 billion in state taxes in 2022.
"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," Iger said. "And I think it's also important for us to say our primary goal has always been to be able to continue to do exactly what we've been doing there, which is investing in Florida. We're proud of the tourism industry that we created, and we want to continue delivering the best possible experience for guests going forward."
Iger went on to say that Disney never believed it would be in this position--fighting in court about this matter--considering it had such a good relationship with Florida for the past 50 years. Looking ahead, Iger said DeSantis should think carefully about his ongoing case against Disney. He mentioned that Disney has plans to invest $17 billion in Florida over the next 10 years, and the state of Florida should understand that this is good for them, too, Iger said. He did not specifically threaten to pull back any investment plans, though.
"We pay our fair share of taxes. We employ thousands of people. And by the way, we pay them above the minimum wage--substantially above the minimum wage dictated by the state of Florida. And we also provide them with great benefits and free education," Iger said. "So, I'm going to finish what is obviously kind of a long answer by asking one question: Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?"
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