The political fallout between Walt Disney World and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has become as notorious as Mickey Mouse himself.
The Florida Republican has already signed a bill to dissolve the Lake Buena Vista Resort’s special treatment in the state after Disney opposed the state’s “Parental Rights in Education Bill” (otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its critics).
Now, in a rapid escalation, Governor DeSantis has threatened to step up his retaliation against The Walt Disney Company by imposing tolls and taxes on the Walt Disney World Resort.
Amid a political boycott of The Walt Disney Company and its former CEO Bob Chapek, the Florida Governor fulfilled his promise to remove Walt Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District – but was outsmarted by Disney itself.
Since 1967, the Walt Disney World Resort had been able to reside in Florida unregulated, basically acting as its own “government”. Reedy Creek allowed Disney to act with the same authority as a county government. Local taxpayers – residents of Orange County and Osceola County – did not have to pay for building or maintaining Disney’s essential services.
The rapid escalation between Disney and DeSantis this week comes in the aftermath of a Central Florida governing board ensuring Disney would keep a large degree of its power. In a quiet move that broke the internet, the former Reedy Creek Development board signed its power back to Disney before leaving office, a binding declaration that doesn’t expire until England’s monarchy dies out.
You read that right. In a real case of Disney Kings and Queens, the term of the agreement was set using the “Rule Against Perpetuities” — which states that a policy will continue until after a certain person dies. In this case, the declaration will continue “until twenty-one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III.” The agreement severely handicaps the Ron DeSantis-appointed board of the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board.
Signed into effect on February 8, just as the Florida House passed the legislation to take control of Reedy Creek Improvement District, the new agreement gives Disney control of the RCID and prevents the new board from making any changes to the agreement.
And in retaliation, Ron DeSantis is now threatening tolls and taxes at Walt Disney World. In an evening appearance on Thursday, April 6 at the conservative liberal arts school Hillsdale College in Michigan, DeSantis escalated his feud by stating;
“They are not superior to the people of Florida. So come hell or high water we’re going to make sure that policy of Florida carries the day. And so they can keep trying to do things. But ultimately we’re going to win on every single issue involving Disney I can tell you that”
He went on to say that Disney is “acting like they pulled one over on the state” and that the legislature will “void anything Disney did on the way out the door. Now that Disney has reopened this issue, we are not just going to void the development agreement they tried to do, we’re going to look at things like taxes on the hotels, tolls on the roads, and developing some of the property that the district owns.”
In breakfast earlier that day hosted by the Midland County Republican Party of Michigan, DeSantis noted, “That story’s not over yet. Buckle up. There’s more coming down the pike.”
Whether DeSantis will actually be able to add road tolls and hotel taxes to Walt Disney World is yet to be seen, but it seems this wild retaliation is not going anywhere just yet.
During a shareholders meeting earlier this week, Disney CEO Bob Iger called Florida’s actions retaliatory as well as “anti-business” and “anti-Florida.” Adding taxes and tolls to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom seems like it would hurt the people of Florida and tourists, rather than Disney itself.
On Monday, April 3, the Florida governor also called on his chief inspector general to do a “thorough review and investigation” into Disney’s actions that he said, “undercut Florida’s legislative process, and defy the will of Floridians.”
Disney has not yet commented on DeSantis’ remarks, but the Walt Disney Company released a statement last week to media outlets stating that “all agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida Government in the Sunshine law.”
We’ll keep you posted on whether the threat of taxes and tolls at Walt Disney World takes shape in this ongoing political feud.