Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is in no rush to reverse the state’s plan to end the special tax and regulatory treatment Disney has enjoyed for decades, with his office shooting down a report of a pending ‘U-Turn.’
A report from the Financial Times cited unnamed sources saying state lawmakers were considering a pivot in the wake of Disney’s ouster of the CEO who tangled with DeSantis earlier this year by opposing a state law prohibiting instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity for students between kindergarten and third grade. But a spokesman for the governor said DeSantis is not considering any sort of compromise with the entertainment giant on the Reedy Creek Improvement District status that affords it the special treatment.
“[Gov. Ron DeSantis] does not make ‘U-Turns,'” said press secretary Bryan Griffin. “The governor was right to champion removing the extraordinary benefit given to one company through the Reedy Creek Improvement District. We will have an even playing field for businesses in Florida, and the state certainly owes no special favors to one company.”
Revocation of the improvement district is slated to take effect in the summer of 2023. Until then, the state and Disney may continue to work out a new operating agreement, but DeSantis’ office insisted it won’t sell out taxpayers.
“Disney’s debts will not fall on the taxpayers of Florida,” Griffin said, reiterating a pledge from DeSantis.
Last week, former Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who caved to activists within the company and rebuked Florida over the law, was unexpectedly ousted and replaced by Bob Iger, his predecessor. Iger expressed contrition over the move in a town hall meeting with employees, at which he remarked that the company should not have been “dragged into that battle” and confirmed he will work to “quiet things down” politically.
Florida lawmakers who spoke to the Financial Times said Iger’s return could prompt a fresh start.
“It’s easier to shift policy when you don’t have to defend the old policy,” State Representative Randy Fine (R-FL), who drafted the legislation to end the special privileges, told the Financial Times. “Chapek screwed up, but Bob Iger doesn’t have to own that screw-up.”
State Senator Linda Stewart (D-FL) told the Financial Times that one possibility would be DeSantis, who overwhelmingly won a second term last month, getting to appoint two members to the board of the Reedy Creek Improvement District under the new arrangement.
Shares for Disney have fallen nearly 38% since the beginning of the year, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has declined roughly 7% over the same period. Among other concerning metrics, Disney reported a significant slowdown in new domestic subscriptions for streaming service Disney+ after leaping into the fray of contentious social issues.
During an interview earlier this week, DeSantis said that Disney brought the rebuke from the legislature upon themselves.
“We didn’t drag them in,” he said. “They went in on their own, and not only opposed the bill. They threatened to get it repealed.”
When asked about the parental rights legislation, Iger affirmed that “LGBTQ employees” at Disney are “very important to us” and noted that the company would continue promoting “inclusion” in its work. However, he cited a “delicate balance” between telling stories and “listening” to audience members. “It’s important to have respect for the people that you’re serving, that you’re trying to reach, and not have disdain for them,” he said.
The comments from Iger came after “Strange World,” an animated film featuring a gay teenage romance, fizzled at the box office during what should have been a strong holiday weekend opening. “Lightyear,” the latest installment in the popular “Toy Story” franchise, featured a same-sex kiss and likewise struggled at the box office.