When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis decided to go after Walt Disney after the company’s former CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, he was doing something some saw as not very Republican. Basically, he made the top tourism draw in his state — a company that drives billion in tourism revenue — a target.
He did that by dissolving the former Reedy Creek Improvement District (RDIC), the governing body which controls the land Disney World sits on, and replacing it with his hand-picked board. That was an attempt to punish Walt Disney (DIS) – Get Free Report for the company’s so-called “woke” policies.
The problem is that DeSantis has tried to paint Disney as a company that pushes an LGBTQ+ agenda while sexualizing children in its movies. That rallied some far-right Republicans against the company, but an awful lot of right-leaning voters have kids that watch “Frozen,” “Cars,” and “Encanto” a lot while they themselves may love “Star Wars” and Marvel.
DeSantis wanted a culture war, but plenty of Republicans believe that business owners should be free to run their businesses. Many of them could see that while Chapek didn’t really want to make a political statement, he had to, in order to support his employee base.
Others on the right have also sided with current CEO Bob Iger who noted that Disney pays more than its fair share of taxes, while also being Florida’s largest single-site employer. Iger also threatened to spend less money than the $17 billion his company had earmarked for Florida over the next decade, which did not include a $1 billion headquarters he canceled that would have moved about 2,000 high-paying jobs from California to Florida.
You could see the HQ cancellation as a loss for DeSantis and a win for his rival California Governor Gavin Newsom. Now, with the DeSantis campaign for the Republican presidential nomination faltering, the candidate has rethought some of his strategies.
Those changes have included laying off some staff, appearing with Jake Tapper on CNN (after saying he did not need mainstream media), and just maybe ratcheting down his war with Disney.
DeSantis has made Disney a top target.
Iger Believes DeSantis Motives Are Political
Iger has made it clear that the dissolution of the RCID was a purely political move. Florida has thousands of special districts and DeSantis did not target any of them.
Disney’s CEO was very clear in his comments during his company’s second-quarter earnings call.
“So while it is easy to say that the Reedy Creek special district that was established for us over 50 years ago benefited us, it is misleading to not also consider how much Disney benefited the state of Florida,” he said.
Iger noted that the Daytona Speedway and The Villages retirement community (which are considered right-leaning) both also have special districts.
“If the goal is leveling the playing field in the uniform application of the law or government oversight of special districts needs to occur or be applied to all special districts,” he added.
There are currently dueling lawsuits regarding the fate of the former RCID in court.
DeSantis’ Board Makes a Pro-Disney Move
While the courts sort out the matter, DeSantis’ hand-picked board serves as the government for the district. One function of that group is setting tax rates for businesses operating inside the former RCID and the new board did something unexpected, according to BlogMickey.
“According to a proposed FY2024 budget, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) will actually be decreasing the millage rate on District business owners. The millage rate is typically the amount of property tax charged per $1,000 of taxable property value and property taxes represent the vast majority of income for the District,” the website reported.
That’s a positive for Disney and it potentially signifies two things. First, the board member may be DeSantis appointees, but they’re still trying to do a fair job. Second, DeSantis may be trying to back away from appearing like he’s openly pushing the most important business to his state away.
The CFTOD expects to collect more total revenue from interest income and permit fees. At least partly because of that, it’s lowering the mill rate from 13.90 to 12.95.