The battle between Disney and the state of Florida’s government continues to escalate, with the latest developments between the two making it crystal clear: DeSantis wants Disney out of the Sunshine State.
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Over the last year, a battle between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and The Walt Disney Company has been fought. It began when Disney stuck its proverbial nose into the state of Florida’s politics in March 2022, and it has only grown since that time. The Disney-DeSantis debacle started when Disney took a loud and public stance of opposition to an education bill passed by the Florida legislature. Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek reportedly attempted to steer clear of meddling in Florida politics, but after pressure from some of the Cast Members within the company, he caved, ultimately speaking out against the bill shortly before it passed. Following the signing of the bill into law, Chapek issued yet another public statement of opposition to the bill that Disney felt simply should have never been made law.
As punishment, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill to dissolve Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special tax district incepted in the late 1960s that effectively allowed Disney World to execute its own practices of self-government. As time marched on toward July 1, 2023–the date on which the law was to go into effect–the feud between the Sunshine State and the House of Mouse seemed to quieten down a bit.
The Florida legislature held a special session, however, in early February to discuss a potential takeover of the district. And without the legislature knowing, Disney’s still-intact Reedy Creek board members were also meeting. Florida voted yes on a variation of its original plans–rather than dissolve the Reedy Creek District, legislators renamed it and gave the governor the exclusive rights to appoint board members, and Disney’s board voted yes on a new development agreement and several restrictive edicts that served to essentially usurp the new board’s power before they ever got started.
This week, Gov. DeSantis ordered a criminal investigation be launched to look at Disney’s actions in the matter, but at this time, there’s no evidence that the Disney-selected board members are guilty of any wrongdoing.
The ongoing feud between Florida’s governor and Disney has all the earmarks of a fight among toddlers who are old enough to realize the “value” in one-upping each other, were it not for the fact that one is the head of the third most populous state in the union, and the other is a 100-year-old, multi-billion corporation that aligns itself with childhood fantasies and nostalgia. Shame on them both.
Neither entity can bring itself to agree with any part of the opinions and actions of the other, as Disney seems resolute in having its way and its say in the state of Florida, and Florida is just as resolute in seeing that Disney gets what it deserves for doing so. But Florida also seems resolute in running Disney out of the state, as evidenced by the continued actions taken against the company that, when added together, look like an attempt by the Florida legislature to give Disney the boot.
“The corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” DeSantis said during a press conference in February, seemingly admitting to a desire to see Disney’s downfall, at least within the state of Florida.
Perhaps Florida’s state government envisions Disney dismantling and loading each of its rides and attractions into the back of hundreds of U-Haul trucks and driving the pieces to a new location outside of Florida. No matter; it isn’t their problem. But assuming Disney could pack up and move, Florida would then be faced with an undeniable problem–one with no real solution. And Florida owes a lot to The Walt Disney Company.
“As much as any single company, they definitely helped shape and mold the state,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “The economic, political and social environment that is Florida today owes a lot to the fateful decision of Walt Disney to come to Central Florida.”
Disney is also the largest taxpayer in Central Florida. In a study conducted as Disney World celebrated its 50-year anniversary, it’s estimated that Disney brings $75.2 billion in annual economic impact, as well as 463,000 jobs and $5.8 billion in additional state tax revenue.
If the Florida state legislature is attempting to put pressure on Disney in an attempt to make its operations in the state difficult or next to impossible, it’s a fool’s errands, to be sure. Companies with such an economic impact on the state are largely good for the state to have within its borders, even when the ideals of the company conflict with the ideals of the state. But Disney needs Florida too. After all, there aren’t enough U-Haul trucks on earth for such a move.
Though it goes without saying that for the good of the state and for the good of Disney World, the two must ultimately come to a compromise, it’s unclear when and how that will take place and what will be involved in such an agreement.