Disney CEO Bob Iger Slams Ron DeSantis’ Legal Actions in Florida: It’s ‘A Matter of Retaliation’
Disney CEO Bob Iger criticized Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ political moves in Florida on the company’s Q2 earnings call on Wednesday.
The business feud was brought up as a result of a shareholder asking about Disney’s parks in Florida, while the company is facing political battles with the governor.
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“Regarding Florida, I have a few things I want to say about that bill,” Iger said. “First of all, the case that we filed last month made our position and the facts very clear. This is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation. And we believe that in us taking that position, we are merely exercising our right to free speech. Also, this is not about special privileges, or a level playing field, or Disney in any way using its leverage around the state of Florida.
“But since there’s been a lot said about special districts and the arrangement that we had, I want to set the record straight on that, too. There are about 2,000 special districts in Florida, and most were established to foster investment in development. We were one of them. It basically made it easier for us, and others by the way, to do business in Florida. And we built a business that employs, as we’ve said before, over 75,000 people and attracts tens of millions of people to the state. So while it’s easy to say that the Reedy Creek special district, which was established for us over 50 years ago, benefited us, it’s misleading to not also consider how much Disney benefited the state of Florida. And we’re not the only company operating a special district. I mentioned the Daytona Speedway has one, a prominent retirement community the Villages, and there are countless others. So if the goal here is leveling the playing field and the uniform application of the law, government oversight of special districts needs to occur or be applied to all special districts.
“There’s also a false narrative that we’ve been fighting to protect tax breaks. But in fact, we’re the largest taxpayer in Central Florida, paying over $1 billion in state and local taxes last year alone. We pay more taxes, specifically more real estate taxes, as a result of that special district, and we all know there was no concerted effort to do anything to dismantle what was once called Reedy Creek special district until we spoke out on the legislation. So this is plainly a matter of retaliation, while the rest of the Florida special districts continue operating basically as they were. I think it’s also important for us to say our primary goal has always been to be able to continue to do exactly what we’ve been doing there, which is investing in Florida. We’re proud of the tourism industry that we created and we want to continue delivering the best possible experience for guests going forward.
“We never wanted, and we certainly never expected, to be in the position of having to defend our business interests in federal court, particularly having such a terrific relationship with the state as we’ve had for more than 50 years. And as I mentioned on our shareholder call, we have a huge opportunity to continue to invest in Florida. I noted that our plans are to invest $17 billion over the next 10 years, which is what the state should want us to do. We operate responsibly. We pay our fair share of taxes. We employ thousands of people and, by the way, we pay them substantially above the minimum wage dictated by the state of Florida. We also provide them with great benefits and free education. So I’m going to finish what is obviously kind of a long answer by asking one question: Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?”
This is not the first time Iger has spoken out against DeSantis.
“It seems like he’s decided to retaliate against us,” Iger said during the company’s annual shareholders meeting on April 3. He also referred to DeSantis’ power struggle with Disney as an attempt “to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right.”
The DeSantis-backed board that oversees theme parks in is planning to take up a proposal that would establish a code enforcement system, which could allow officers to impose civil penalties of up to $500 per infraction per day — which is the maximum allowed by state law.
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