Florida governor signs bill to remove Disney’s special tax status
Florida’s Republican governor has signed a bill to revoke Walt Disney’s decades-old ability to govern the area around the Walt Disney World theme park, a move seen as retaliation for criticism of the company regarding his administration’s LGBTQ policies.
Following a staff outcry in March over Florida legislation dubbed by critics the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, Disney suspended political donations to Governor Ron DeSantis and other supporters of the bill. . DeSantis, who is up for re-election and reportedly weighing a 2024 presidential bid, has since denounced Disney as a “woke” company.
One of Florida’s largest employers, the company has enjoyed in-state privileges since 1967 that have given it autonomy over water, roads, emergency services and permits on approximately 25,000 acres near of the city of Orlando. It also had the option of issuing its own municipal bonds.
The legislation passed the state legislature earlier this week and was signed by DeSantis on Friday. This will end the autonomy enjoyed by the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as Disney’s Special Tax District is known, by June 2023. Walt Disney himself had claimed such privileges after being frustrated by the allowed around Disneyland California.
The dispute between a Republican governor and one of his state’s most important companies has become a flashpoint in the culture wars over gender identity, Covid-19 protocols and racial politics, which have escalated ahead of the midterm elections this fall.
“Disney and other woke corporations will no longer get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns,” DeSantis wrote to donors Wednesday. Disney had no comment.
Florida law prohibits schools from teaching sexual orientation and gender identity in lower grades and other issues that are not “age or developmentally appropriate.”
Disney chief executive Bob Chapek said he tried to avoid a public dispute over the bill by lobbying against the legislation behind the scenes. But after employee protests, Chapek issued a public statement opposing the bill. By then, however, the bill had passed the Florida legislature — a sore point for LGBTQ Disney employees.
Disney has about 66,000 employees in Florida and paid about $780 million in state taxes in 2021. Democrats and local Florida officials say the law will likely pass costs paid by Disney onto local taxpayers.
DeSantis had asked lawmakers to expand a special session of the legislature to consider ending the Reedy Creek district. However, the long interval until its implementation next year will allow time for negotiations.