Things are looking up for the relationship between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis–so much so, that the two may become friends again very soon as Florida lawmakers are planning to reverse a move from April 2022 that would have dissolved Disney’s special tax district, meaning Disney’s Reedy Creek could survive after all.
In March of this year, Florida legislators passed the Parental Rights in Education law, which essentially leaves the responsibility of teaching children in grades Kindergarten, first, second, and third grades about sexual orientation and gender identity safely where that responsibility belongs–with the parents of students in those grades. No harm, no foul, right?
Wrong, according to a number of critics who took issue with the new statute before it ever became law, dubbing it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, although there isn’t even a single mention of not saying “gay” in the entire bill.
Cast Members and others pushed for then-CEO of The Walt Disney Company Bob Chapek to make a public statement, slamming the bill (though Disney is a California-based organization, and the legislation is an education law). Chapek did not issue a statement immediately, but after more and more outcry over the bill and Chapek’s refusal to make a statement, the now-removed CEO spoke out on behalf of the company in protest of the bill.
Regardless, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law at the end of March, prompting an immediate response statement from Disney, which slammed the government in the Sunshine State for passing a law “that never should have passed” and vowing to stand with those working to see the law repealed.
But Ron DeSantis wouldn’t hear of the California company attempting to run the legislature in Florida, and in April, the governor signed another bill into law, this time, a law that would allow the state to dissolve any special tax districts created after 1967, including Disney World’s Reedy Creek District, a 55-year-old district which essentially allows Disney to run itself as though it were its own local government. The move led to a very public feud between DeSantis and then-CEO Bob Chapek that only seemed to get worse as time went on.
Some federal legislators vowed not to assist Disney in keeping its copyright on Steamboat Willie, set to expire on January 1, 2024, presumably in retaliation for the move by Disney.
Such a set-up by Disney allowed the Florida mega-employer to tax itself to cover the costs of its water usage, power, emergency and fire services, and roads. The set-up even gives Disney the privilege to build its own airport and a nuclear power plant, if the company so desired.
A dissolution of such a district would have, to use the slang phrase, “hit Disney where it hurt.”
But Disney and Florida could be on the way to making up, as the House of Mouse removed Bob Chapek as CEO on November 20, re-installing veteran CEO and long-tenured, but retired, Disney employee Bob Iger to the post under a 2-year contract–one that cost Disney some very pretty pennies. Some say Iger’s return and Chapek’s dismissal could open the doors for a rekindling of an old partnership that was initially started by Walt Disney himself in the 1960s.
(Reuters) – Florida lawmakers are planning to reverse a move that would strip Walt Disney Co. of its right to operate a private government around its theme parks, the Financial Times reported on Friday, citing people briefed on the plan.$DIS #ReedyCreek
— Carl Quintanilla (@carlquintanilla) December 2, 2022
Randy Fine (R), the legislator who drafted the bill to take down Disney’s special district, says Chapek’s removal upped Disney’s chances at getting things settled and potentially settled in a way about which both parties can be pleased, saying “something will get sorted out.”
“It’s easier to shift policy when you don’t have to defend the old policy,” Fine said. “Chapek screwed up, but Bob Iger doesn’t have to own that screw-up.”
During a town hall meeting with Cast Members on Monday morning, the newly-returned Iger was careful not to make promises or pass harsh criticism when asked about the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” and Reedy Creek debacle in Florida.
“What I can say [is] the state of Florida has been important to us for a long time, and we have been very important to the state of Florida,” Iger explained. “That is something I’m extremely mindful of and will articulate if I get the chance.”
Those in the political sphere in Florida likely saw Iger’s responses as a potential olive branch or a reaching across the aisle between the two entities–a move that would be imperative in order for an agreement to be made by both, and according to Financial Times, such an agreement is a very real possibility–an agreement in which Disney’s special district can remain, but with some modifications.
Only time will tell.