Five long days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation to revoke Disney’s special tax privileges and self-governing status in the state, the entertainment giant has remained officially silent.
The move, set to go into effect in June 2023, has prompted countless op-eds (The New York Times’ Paul Krugman called the bill “an assault on democracy”) and even comment from President Biden (“Christ, they’re going after Mickey Mouse,” he said at a fundraiser in Oregon).
But the company, which remains Florida’s largest private employer, has issued no statements on the new law — and its reps did not respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment. (Officials for Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District did issue a statement last Thursday noting that the state can’t proceed with its dissolution plan unless it also covers all outstanding debts to bond holders in the district, including interest payments.)
It’s possible that Disney CEO Bob Chapek — who flip-flopped on the company’s response to the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that barred references to “sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through Grade 3 — simply wants to avoid publicly provoking a rising Republican who seems eager to use Disney as a target in the culture wars and to boost his own political ambitions.
After all, DeSantis has been all too eager to bash Disney, saying the company “crossed the line” for eventually taking a public stance against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. He also stirred up ultra-right wing QAnon conspiracists who last week attempted to block the entrance to Walt Disney World and hung up a sign accusing the company of pedophilia. (The bizarre claims included the unsubstantiated idea that the Utilidors, a series of walkways under the Magic Kingdom, were being used for human trafficking instead of, you know, making sure you don’t see a cowboy from Frontierland in Tomorrowland.)
DeSantis soon followed up with a push to abolish the special rights that Florida granted to Disney back in 1967 for the 25,000-acre Reedy Creek Improvement District — the area where Disney’s Florida parks now call home. Needless to say, this is a decidedly aggressive move against a company that, according to a 2019 Oxford Economics study, “produces $5.8 billion in state tax revenue from $75 billion in economic activity that supports 463,000 jobs.”
While Disney was granted a lot of privileges under that 1967 law — designed to lure the company away from northern California and into Florida to build Walt Disney World — the corporation also assumed the cost of many basic government services normally paid by taxpayers. As the Washington Post put it, “Disney is responsible for everything including road maintenance, building inspections, 911 emergency calls and sewage treatment.”
The new law would push those responsibilities — and costs — back onto the state and local government. Orange County tax collector Scott Randolph estimated that county taxpayers would be on the hook for $164 million annually to pay for services that Disney currently covers — which would likely mean property tax hikes and other additional charges. (The district also occupies parts of Osceola County.)
But many note that the Reedy Creek Improvement District will remain unchanged until June 2023 — which may discourage Disney from provoking DeSantis on any upcoming legislation. Or to reverse its recent move to halt all political donations in the state. “This leaves the sword of Damocles over Disney’s head for 13 months. It shuts them up,” Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R) told the Washington Post. “Nobody actually thinks this is going to happen. The cost to the state would be astronomical, potentially billions of dollars.”
Brandes, the lone Republican to vote against the bill, is up for reelection in the fall (he’s also a potential Republican candidate for President in 2024, just like DeSantis). “This isn’t even really about Disney,” Brandes told the Post of DeSantis’ exploitation of the Disney issue. “This is about staying on Fox. This is about extending the media life of this storyline. This is gold for him.”