DeSantis pledges to ramp up heat on Disney

The Florida governor said state agencies and the legislature would target the company.
FILE – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd at Adventure Outdoors gun store, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Smyrna, Ga. DeSantis, who is widely expected to announce a campaign and is seen as former President Donald Trump’s top rival, accused prosecutors of stretching the law to target an opponent. But his remarks came a week after DeSantis took a shot at the tawdry circumstances underlying the case when asked to comment on it. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) escalated his feud with the Walt Disney Co. on Friday, warning that state agencies and the Republican-run legislature would target Disney to ensure it lives “under the same laws as everybody else.”

“We need to make sure that people understand whether you’re an individual or a corporation, that you don’t get to play by your own rules, that people in the state of Florida ultimately are the sovereign,” DeSantis said. “They elect people to fill these offices and enact policy. And I think Disney has always viewed itself as being exempt from that constitutional process. Well, those days are over here in the state of Florida.”

Speaking at a press conference announcing plans for a new I-75 interchange in Ocala, DeSantis was asked about comments he made in Michigan this week in which he threatened to impose new tolls and hotel taxes around Disney properties.

“Now that this has been re-opened, all options are on the table,” DeSantis said.

In preparation for a likely run for the Republican presidential nomination, DeSantis has visited battleground and early-voting states, such as Iowa and Michigan. He is headed to New Hampshire next week.

His feud with Disney has helped him highlight his agenda of attacking what he calls woke-ism, a catchall term DeSantis uses for typically progressive ideas and policies that conflict with his conservative approach to governing. Those include companies that have been outspoken in support of tackling climate change and have been critical of DeSantis’s agenda, such as his Parents’ Bill of Rights law.

In February, DeSantis signed legislation that dissolved a governmental entity, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, first established in 1967, that essentially allowed Disney to govern itself. DeSantis’s law created a new governing body with personnel that he picked and renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

But Disney, the day before DeSantis’s new district went into effect, enacted an agreement with Reedy Creek that neutered the new board’s authority. The deal transferred Reedy Creek’s powers to Disney “until twenty one years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III.”

DeSantis said Friday that the move broke Florida law and that the legislature would act soon to invalidate the agreement.

“There will be additional legislative action taken in Tallahassee that will nullify what they tried to do at the 11th-hour and then potentially … arm the [DeSantis] board with the ability to make sure that this is run appropriately,” he said.

DeSantis said that the new board is still hiring staff, which accounts for any lack of action on its part.

“There’ll be a discussion on a wide range of opportunities to be able to make sure that this state control board is able to do the things that I’ve always said: live under the same laws as everybody else, pay a fair share of taxes [and] pay off all the municipal debt,” DeSantis said.

The former Reedy Creek entity has about $1 billion in municipal bond debt. DeSantis said that Disney would be under more scrutiny with the new oversight structure.

“Now that we got rid of self government, you actually now have state agencies going in and doing inspections like they would do on any other business,” DeSantis said. “So they’re now subjected to all this that they necessarily weren’t.”