Disney’s ongoing spat with Florida governor Ron DeSantis has moved up a level, with the company having once again outmaneuvered the politician to retain control of its long-standing special tax district, formerly known as Reedy Creek.
The board revealed on Wednesday that Disney signed another “11th hour” agreement that allows it to set its own utility rates at its Orlando-based theme parks through 2032 — a time when DeSantis would no longer be in the governor’s seat.
Prior to that announcement, the board uncovered Disney passed a separate, last minute agreement which blocks the board from making major changes to its resort or theme parks.
The move is the latest in a tit-for-tat that has captured the attention of lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle as DeSantis attempts to thwart Disney’s plans.
Earlier this week, the governor announced new legislation that would require Disney to adhere to further inspections of its theme parks.
“They are not superior to the laws that are enacted by the people of the state of Florida,” DeSantis said at a press conference on Monday. “That’s not going to work, that’s not going to fly.”
DeSantis added he’s open to developing land near Disney as a way to exercise further control, floating possibilities like a state park or even a state prison. He also suggested the board should consider raising taxes on the company.
Disney, which has faced criticism from the board over its lack of affordable housing, said on Wednesday it will break ground next year on a previously announced affordable housing development just a few miles away from the Magic Kingdom.
The development, set for completion in 2026, will include approximately 1,400 total units over 80 acres of land.
Iger defends Disney’s actions
Disney CEO Bob Iger defended the company’s actions and denounced DeSantis’ practices during its annual meeting of shareholders earlier this month. “A company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do,” Iger said at the time, describing DeSantis’ policies as “anti-business” and “anti-Florida.”
The fight stems from what has largely been seen as a politically-targeted response over Disney’s reaction to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. In 2022, then-CEO Bob Chapek condemned it at the company’s annual shareholder meeting after initially deciding not to speak publicly on the matter.
That decision set off the political firestorm seen today. Amid the battle, Disney announced its first-ever Pride Month event on Monday.
Disney’s DeSantis troubles come as the company rejigs its business in an effort to improve free cash flow and eliminate $5.5 billion in costs, including $3 billion in content costs.
The company is reportedly planning thousands of job cuts for the end of this month as part of its broader effort to slash 7,000 jobs by the summer. The layoffs will include eliminating 15% of its entertainment division, along with various on-air and management positions at ESPN.
Iger, who stepped back into the CEO role in November, has remained hyper-focused on profitability as investors shift focus away from subscriber growth. The company’s direct-to-consumer division shed a whopping $4 billion-plus in its fiscal 2022 ended Oct. 1, after it spent an estimated $33 billion on content last year.
By Alexandra Canal / Yahoo Finance