The Center Square — The Walt Disney Company has officially lost its cozy relationship with Florida.
Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference Monday in Lake Buena Vista to sign House Bill 9B that will put an end to many of Disney’s governance privileges with the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Critics charge that Disney will retain much of its tax privileges and that DeSantis has appointed political contributors to the new board.
“The corporate kingdom finally comes to an end, there’s a new sheriff in town and accountability will be the order of the day.” DeSantis said.
“Since the 1960’s they’ve [Disney] enjoyed privileges unlike any other company or individual in the state of Florida.” DeSantis said, adding that Disney essentially had its own government, including exemptions from laws.
DeSantis noted that Disney had also been given huge benefits, had not paid their fair share of taxes and had amassed a municipal debt of over $700 million.
One DeSantis critic in the Legislature says that a better idea than stripping Disney of its privileges with Reedy Creek was to close corporate tax loopholes that she says the company exploits.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said in a statement that Disney retains the same tax breaks as before and that the new board would be filled with DeSantis-appointed “hostile conservative cronies.”
“It’s absolutely wild to see a self-proclaimed capitalist like DeSantis celebrate the government takeover of a private board which is exactly what the governor just did today,” Eskamani said. “Disney still maintains the same tax breaks — but their First Amendment rights have been suppressed, and it sends a message to any private individual or company that if you don’t purport to what the governor wants, then you’ll be punished.”
DeSantis mentioned the objection Disney had in 2022 to the Parental Choice in Education Act, which banned educators from teaching children about gender identity and other issues from kindergarten through third grade.
“Disney came out against something that was really just about protecting young kids, and making sure that students are able to go to school learning to read, write, add and subtract and not having a teacher tell them they can change their gender.” DeSantis said.
DeSantis noted that the protest from Disney about the legislation was only a “mild annoyance” but added that Disney’s actions had shown that there was a movement within the corporation itself to inject sexualized material into children’s programming.
“We want our kids to be kids, we want them to enjoy entertainment, school, without having an agenda imposed upon them.” DeSantis said, adding, “If you’re going that way as a corporation, those are not values we want to promote in the State of Florida.”
DeSantis pointed out that the situation with Disney was indefensible from a policy perspective, noting that it is not fair one theme park gets preferential treatment over another.
“We believe that was not good policy, we believe, being joined at the hip with this one California-based company was not something that was justifiable or sustainable,” DeSantis said, adding, “So, we said we were gonna do something about it.”
Disney will be treated like any other theme park in Florida, according to DeSantis, and that includes Florida laws that the area has been exempt from up until this point.
The $700 million municipal debt incurred during the corporation’s period of self governance will be paid by Disney and not by the taxpayers who live in Orange and Osceola counties.
Disney will also be responsible for paying its share for infrastructure, something that DeSantis said they weren’t paying for years.
“I’m glad that we could stand up against some of the madness,” DeSantis said, adding that he was also happy that the Legislature is working on more permanent protections for every Floridian.