Less than eight months after Gov. Ron DeSantis launched a public feud with Disney, Florida's state government is reportedly backing down from its confrontation with the House of Mouse.
State lawmakers are preparing to reverse legislation passed in April that would have stripped Disney of its special tax status and its authority to operate a pseudo-government that covers more than 25,000 acres of Floridian swampland-turned-resort. Instead of undoing Disney's special arrangement, The Financial Times reported Friday that lawmakers are now looking to merely make "a few modifications" to the deal that allows Disney to control the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
State Rep. Randy Fine (R–Palm Bay), the lawmaker who originally drafted the bill to strip Disney's self-rule power, tells the Times that the exit of Bob Chapek as Disney's CEO and the return of former CEO Bob Iger makes it more likely that lawmakers will back down from the culture war that DeSantis picked with one of the state's most iconic brands and largest employers—more than 77,000 people work at the Walt Disney World resort.
In other words, this looks like it was never much more than a pissing match between DeSantis and Chapek, who drew the governor's ire when he sharply criticized Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" law that censored discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. DeSantis signed the bill into law in March.
Florida has hundreds of special tax districts like Reedy Creek, but DeSantis seized on Chapek's criticism and framed the whole thing as a culture war fight against a corporation that had received special privileges from the state. Chapek's criticism of the new law amounted to "provocation, and we're going to fight back," DeSantis said in April as he signed the law undoing Disney's special status.
But most of that was a wild exaggeration. As Reason's Scott Shackford wrote in April, the special tax and governing status granted to Disney in 1967 aren't so much privileges for the corporation as they are gifts to the local governments surrounding the Walt Disney World resort. If the special status were revoked, Orange and Osceola counties would become responsible for providing mandatory public services—including basic infrastructure like water supplies and emergency services like fire departments, all of which Disney currently self-operates and self-funds within Reedy Creek—to the massive resort. It would effectively put local taxpayers on the hook for essential services that Disney used to pay for itself.
"Any contention that DeSantis is eliminating some sort of 'special treatment' for Disney comes with it the perhaps mistaken assumption that the two counties suddenly in charge of all of this infrastructure will somehow make the park better and not worse. In reality, putting Disney parks at the mercy of two different counties with different laws will be a huge mess for everybody involved, and that's the point," Shackford wrote. "It's not about what's fair or what's best for the citizens in the area. It's about punishing political foes and centralizing government power (a very nonconservative approach) to do so."
Friday's report that lawmakers are preparing to back down from those proposals only seems to confirm that conclusion.
The fight between DeSantis (with help from the Republican-controlled Legislature) and Disney wasn't an example of a Republican governor taking a stand against a "woke corporation." It looks to have been a grotesque misuse of state power that forced a private company to change its leadership, with the threats delivered in response to the former CEO's decision to exercise his free speech rights.
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