Florida lawmakers are working on plans to undo a decision that would take away Disney’s right to run a private government around its theme parks. This could solve the fallout from the “Don’t Say Gay” controversy, which dragged the entertainment giant into the culture wars.
In April, the Florida legislature voted to get rid of Disney’s 55-year-old special tax district. This came after a public fight between the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, and the company’s then-chief executive, Bob Chapek, over a new state law that made it harder for LGBTQ issues to be talked about in classrooms.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District is a way for Disney to pay for water, power, roads, and fire services in the area. It is set up so that Disney can tax itself to pay for these things. People think that the special district is important for the theme park to keep up high standards for visitors.
But state lawmakers are working on a compromise that, with a few changes, would let Disney keep the deal in place for the most part. People who know about the plan say that some people think Bob Iger’s return as CEO last month will help pave the way for a solution.
Randy Fine, the Republican lawmaker who wrote the law to end Disney’s control over the 25,000-acre Reedy Creek property, said that Chapek’s removal from executive office last week made it more likely that “something will get sorted out” about the district.
Fine said, “It’s easier to change policies when you don’t have to defend the old ones.” “Chapek made a mistake, but Bob Iger doesn’t have to take responsibility for that mistake.”
Iger hasn’t said anything bad about Florida since he went back to work at Disney. In February, when the bill was first introduced, he said it would put “vulnerable young LGBTQ people in danger.”
Iger’s full-throated opposition to the bill, which critics called “Don’t Say, Gay,” put pressure on Disney, which at first didn’t want to take a stand, to change its mind this spring and come out against the bill. The back and forth made it seem like Chapek had trouble making big decisions as CEO.
Iger told employees at a town hall meeting on Monday that he was “sorry to see us dragged into the battle” over Reedy Creek and that he needed time to “get up to speed” on the situation.
Iger said, “What I can say is that Florida has been important to us for a long time, and we have been very important to Florida.” “I’m very aware of that, and if I have the chance, I’ll say something about it.”
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A powerful figure in Florida state politics said that Iger set the right tone for finding a middle ground. “That was a good olive brand message to Disney workers and the state of Florida,” he said. “It was a message that tried to be polite.”
Also, tax officials and lawmakers have said that getting rid of Disney’s private government could put a huge financial burden on taxpayers and give the state up to $1 billion in debt.
The Reedy Creek bill was written quickly this spring, right as DeSantis was making national news for his fight against “woke” Disney. This was the first time a Florida governor had ever gone after the state’s biggest employer. With 38 lobbyists and a lot of money, Disney has been able to get most of what it wants in Florida for more than 50 years.
Chapek made DeSantis mad because he didn’t agree with the education law, which upset Disney’s LGBTQ employees at its Florida parks and all over the company. He also stopped Disney from giving money to politicians in Florida and put off a plan to move thousands of employees there.
But things have changed in Florida and at Disney World since then. Last week, the Disney board fired Chapek and put Iger back in charge. Iger ran the company for 15 years and is well-known in Florida. In November, DeSantis easily won re-election as Florida governor, which put him in the lead for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.
Linda Stewart, a Democratic state senator who represents part of Orlando, where Disney World is located, said that the law that was passed this spring “is a tax increase.” “I don’t think [DeSantis] realized how bad this could be for Florida, its counties, and cities.”
She said that a possible compromise being talked about would stop Disney from building a nuclear power plant or an airport on the land. Florida gave Disney the right to do those things in 1967, but the company is not likely to use it.
More important for DeSantis, there are also talks about letting the governor put two people on the Reedy Creek board. Stewart said, “These compromises can be made with the least amount of damage.” “We can’t make it look like the governor lost.”
The law that takes away Disney’s special status won’t go into effect until next summer. This gives the different sides time to work out their differences. Lawmakers say that a Republican senator is already working on a draught of a compromise bill.
“Both Disney and the government seem to want to work out a deal. “No one wants a train wreck,” said a Florida political source who didn’t want to be named.
Disney didn’t want to say anything. When asked for a comment, DeSantis and Reedy Creek did not send back a representative.
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