Joe Raedle/Getty Images and AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
- Disney will sue Florida for dissolving its self-governing status, predicted Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo.
- Florida lawmakers are deciding Disney’s financial fate this week.
- DeSantis retaliated against Disney for saying it would fight the law critics call “Don’t Say Gay.”
Walt Disney World’s strategy to avoid taking on new costs amid its ongoing battle with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis will be to simply run out the clock, a top Florida Democrat predicted Monday.
Florida lawmakers are in Tallahassee for a special session over the next two weeks to decide the fate of Disney, one of the state’s biggest employers, in a costly dispute over who should take on the theme park’s considerable debt.
DeSantis wants the legislature to give him the power to appoint a state-run oversight board, Fox News first reported, now that the company is set to soon lose its special self-governing status.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat representing parts of Broward and Miami-Dade, predicted Disney was angling to challenge the law in court, and then to resolve the problem when DeSantis leaves office, likely to run for the 2024 Republican nomination for president.
“I think Disney anticipates having to litigate on this issue, to sue, hope to get a stay from the court to keep things status quo, and then basically just drag it out until DeSantis is gone and people need, or don’t care, about Disney,” Pizzo told reporters during a press conference in Tallahassee.
Pizzo made it clear throughout the press conference that he anticipated DeSantis would run for president. Should DeSantis not seek the nomination, then he would have four more years at the helm of the state.
“We are all hoping the governor makes a decision real soon about what he wants to do with his future, so he can leave the business of legislating in Florida to Floridians,” Pizzo said.
Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, told Insider through a spokesperson that the company was “monitoring the progression of the draft legislation,” saying it was complex given the history of the district. The company didn’t address any possible litigation plans.
“Disney works under a number of different models and jurisdictions around the world, and regardless of the outcome, we remain committed to providing the highest quality experience for the millions of guests who visit each year,” Vahle said.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to an email from Insider seeking comment. During his 2022 reelection campaign, DeSantis said Disney was free to take a position on the bill but “they are not free to force all of us to subsidize their activism.”
DeSantis signed the bill into law last year to sunset Disney’s self-governing status. His actions burnished his political brand as combative against what he calls “woke” corporations.
The Disney measure isn’t scheduled to take effect until June of this year, however, and lawmakers have to clarify the bill to abolish the possibility that Orange and Osceola County residents would face tax hikes, which could amount to more than $1 billion in bond debt. Residents filed a lawsuit over the matter last year, but a judge dismissed it.
DeSantis has insisted that he won’t saddle residents with higher costs. The state board idea he proposed would have Disney pay $700 million dollars toward its debt, Fox News reported. House lawmakers introduced a formal proposal Monday afternoon, which would have the state Senate approve governor-appointed board members.
Pizzo, the minority leader pro tempore — which has a GOP supermajority — called the governor’s board proposal “socialism.”
“It’s the government controlling the means and production of goods and services and pricing, and governing over corporations,” he said.
Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat from North Miami Beach, speaks to the media Monday, February 6, 2023 in the Senate Office Building at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida legislators are meeting in a two-week special session to take up a list of issues proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Phil Sears/AP Photo
Disney’s power in Florida appears to be waning
The regular legislative session in Florida isn’t expected to begin until March 7, though DeSantis called a special session early to have lawmakers address the Disney question, without explaining what necessitated the accelerated timeline.
Other areas state lawmakers will consider would allow Florida to transport migrants from other states and to give the state more power to prosecute election fraud.
Democrats on Monday accused DeSantis of setting up the timeline to clean up legislative language dictating his political stunts on voting and immigration, contentious matter that have landed the governor national headlines. Pizzo is among those who has sued DeSantis after he authorized planes to transport migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
DeSantis’ actions against Disney last year were retaliatory after the company opposed his Parental Rights in Education Act. Critics call the law “Don’t Say Gay” because it bans teachers from instructing students about sexual orientation and gender identity until third grade, and contains nebulous language that could further restrict discussions in higher grades.
“Let’s not forget how this happened: Disney spoke out about something they didn’t feel was wright, that the governor was doing, and so he decided to punish them,” Sen. Lauren Book of Broward County, the minority leader, said at Monday’s press conference.
Disney has long been powerful in Florida. The special taxing and governance district dates back to 1967, when Florida state legislators created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, in which Disney would fund its own municipal services, such as power, water, roads, emergency services, and fire protection.
Today, more than 40 lobbyists represent Disney before the Florida legislature, according to an Insider review of lobbying disclosures.
The feud originated under ex-CEO Bob Chapek. His successor, Bob Iger, hasn’t said how the company would fight Florida but told employees during a town hall leaked to CNBC that “one of the core values of our storytelling is inclusion and acceptance and tolerance.”
This story has been updated to include a statement from Walt Disney World and to note the introduction of a House bill on Monday afternoon, after the initial story published.