Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday signed a bill to dissolve the private government that Walt Disney World controls over its property in the state, punishing the entertainment giant for opposing a new law that critics call it “Don’t Say Gay”.
The move is expected to have huge fiscal implications for Disney and further strain relations between the Republican-led government and a major political player whose theme parks have turned Orlando into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
For DeSantis, the attack on Disney is the latest front in a culture war being waged against policies involving race, gender and the coronavirus, battles he fought to become one of the nation’s most popular Republicans. and a likely 2024 presidential candidate.
The law would eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the 55-year-old Disney government is known, along with a handful of other similar districts by June 2023. The measure restores the districts, leaving an avenue to renegotiate the future of the agreement which allows the company to provide services such as zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure.
DeSantis said Friday the company will end up paying more taxes than it does now and the law shouldn’t result in higher taxes for residents around Disney. He gave no further details.
The dispute began with Disney’s criticism of a new law banning teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade as well as teaching that is not “school appropriate”. ‘age or development’. DeSantis and his fellow Republicans have defended the law as reasonable, saying parents, not teachers, should discuss these topics with children.
Under mounting pressure, Disney eventually said it would suspend political donations in the state and support organizations that oppose the new law.
“You are a corporation based in Burbank, Calif., and you are going to harness your economic might to attack parents in my state,” DeSantis said Friday before signing the bill in a ceremony at Hialeah Gardens. “We see this as a provocation and we will fight against it.”
The governor hammered Disney for speaking out against the bill, portraying the company as a purveyor of “woke” ideology that injects inappropriate subject matter into children’s entertainment. In a fundraising pitch sent out this week, DeSantis told his supporters, “It took a look under the hood to see what Disney has become to truly understand their inappropriate influence.”
Republican Rep. Randy Fine, sponsor of the bill to eliminate the Disney District, said Disney was a guest in the state and Floridians were uninterested in California corporate values.
“You kick the hornet’s nest, things happen,” Fine told lawmakers in the GOP-controlled statehouse this week.
Democrats called Disney’s move a petty retaliation, warning owners could face tax bills if they were to absorb the company’s costs, though the specifics are far from clear.
“The devil is in the details and we don’t have the details today,” said Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, whose county is partly home to Disney World. He added that it would be “catastrophic for our budget” if the county had to bear the costs of public safety at the theme park.
Disney is one of Florida’s largest private employers, saying last year it had more than 60,000 workers in the state. It is not immediately clear how the company or local governments around its properties would be affected if the district were disbanded.
The creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District and the control it gave Disney over 27,000 acres (11,000 hectares) in Florida was a crucial element in the company’s construction projects near Orlando in the 1960s. Company officials said they needed autonomy to plan a futuristic city with the theme park. The city never materialized, however; instead, it turned into an Epcot theme park.
The company is a major political player in Florida, as well as the rest of the country. The Walt Disney Co. and its affiliates made more than $20 million in political contributions to Republicans and Democrats during the 2020 campaign cycle, the most recent year for which numbers are available, according to the Center for Responsive. Politics, which tracks these expenses.
That same year, Disney-related entities donated $10.5 million to the America First Action committee, which supports former Republican President Donald Trump. Disney also donated $1.2 million to support Democratic President Joe Biden’s campaign.