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Florida revokes Disney’s special privileges after the company got too far out of its lane


In the aftermath of Disney’s promise to do everything it could to undo Florida’s duly elected parental rights law, Gov. Ron DeSantis, R, and the Florida legislature have moved to officially sunset Disney’s special district status.

Quick Facts

The bill to scrap Disney’s special governing power, introduced on Monday, passed in record time. The Senate voted for it on Wednesday and the House on Thursday, and it was signed into law by DeSantis this afternoon.

It had been taken up at the behest of DeSantis after the company became an outspoken critic of the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, or the dubiously nicknamed “Don’t Say Gay” bill (which never once mentions the word “gay”).

In a statement after that bill became law, Disney put out a statement that read: “Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

DeSantis called out the company for using its power to interfere in Florida’s legislative process. “Disney and other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer. If we want to keep the Democrat machine and their corporate lapdogs accountable, we have to stand together now.”

In 1967 the Florida legislature created the Reedy Creek Improvement District as part of an agreement granting Disney autonomy to create its theme park on 25,000 acres of swampland. The agreement grants the company the authority to operate as its own local government. The district provides services such as fire and emergency services, water, sewer, and roads. Disney benefits by having control over all building projects and by having the ability to issue taxpayer-funded bonds. The corporation also receives tax benefits.

Critics of the special district classification argue that it gives Disney an unfair advantage, even hindering competition, thereby harming consumers. None of Orlando’s other theme parks have been given the special district designation.

DeSantis said, “What I would say as a matter of first principle is, I don’t support special privileges in law just because a company is powerful and they’ve been able to wield a lot of power. I think what has happened is there’s a lot of these special privileges that are not justifiable, but because Disney had held so much sway, they were able to sustain a lot of special treatment over the years.”

Democrats vociferously opposed the bill, which passed by a 23-16 vote in the Florida Senate Wednesday and a 70-38 vote in the House on Thursday. Some critics claim the bill did not fully take into account the possible cost to taxpayers of such a move. 

The legislature did not conduct an economic study before passing the legislation. Disney currently owes debt on several municipal bonds, and it’s not clear who would pay those. Disney’s Florida resort is located in both Orange and Osceola Counties and the cost of services currently provided by Disney could be passed on to taxpayers. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said that taking over Reedy Creek’s first response component with no new revenue could be “catastrophic” to the county budget. Taxpayers could be required to make up the difference. Orange County’s tax collector Scott Randolph said property owners could see an extra $200 to $250 a year in property taxes.

The bill does not take effect until June 2023 and details are to be determined over that time, including the possibility that Disney could be required to pay more in taxes.

In a tweet put out by his press secretary, DeSantis addressed this issue but saying: “People will [ask about Disney’s] services & utilities. We’re gonna take care of that. Don’t worry. We have everything thought out. Don’t let anyone tell you somehow Disney’s going to get a tax cut out of this. They’re going to pay more taxes as a result of this.”

This bill has created a divide within the right, some of whom say that it interferes with the free market and that it is not appropriate for the government to get involved and take revenge on a business. However, others support the bill as a way to check Disney’s influence and interference in government affairs.

John Daniel Davidson at the Federalist falls into the latter category, citing examples of corporations threatening governors into caving to their demands rather than listening to the voters. Davidson argues that Disney involved itself in parents’ attempts to stop the indoctrination of children and thus should lose its privileges.

He is largely correct. The concern regarding this bill isn’t about government involvement with the free market. There is nothing free market about the special privileges Disney has received. This gives it an unfair advantage over other businesses, including the benefit of not having to go through normal regulatory and approval channels to build its rides, as other theme parks have to do. In fact, Disney has free rein to build whenever it wants, unlike other businesses in Florida. Allowing its special district status to end after five decades may seem like revenge, but it isn’t unfair.

The problem with the bill is two-fold: How to pay for the services Disney currently provides and how to ensure that health and safety is maintained. If a funding mechanism can be worked out to prevent a burden on taxpayers, then fine, but a heavy increase on taxpayers would be hard to justify. Requiring the counties to provide services such as fire departments could pose serious concerns. Can one expect counties to suddenly be able to respond to every situation at the massive theme park? How would response times be affected? These are the concerns with the bill, though they will likely be addressed before the 2023 implementation date.

Let’s be clear: There are benefits to the public with the special district classification and it did benefit Florida economically at the time it was done, but that benefit may no longer outweigh the company’s negatives.

Philosophically, this bill isn’t a misstep but a move that could finally help stop the intimidation by progressive corporations who impose their agenda on the public. If Disney objected to a new restriction on theme parks, it would have merit and nothing would be inappropriate about it. Vehemently opposing the parental rights law, however, was wholly outside its area of concern; if anything, Disney should have supported the law, which protects children and reaffirms the natural rights of parents to know exactly what schools are teaching and doing to their children and to have the ultimate say regarding their child’s well-being.

The move by DeSantis and Florida lawmakers was intended to send a clear message to corporate America: Stay in your lane or suffer consequences. Since they took a hard left turn into wokeness, corporations have decided that their opinion on a variety of issues — ranging from election integrity and COVID-19 policy to race relations and LGBTQ issues — matters more than that of American citizens.

Americans aren’t governed by corporations — they’re governed by their elected representatives. An overwhelming percentage of Floridians support the parental rights law — including a majority of Democrats — which makes it a win for democracy. Disney had no right to interfere with that process.

If Disney CEO Bob Chapek wants to have a say in how Florida is run, then he should state his beliefs and solutions and run for office. In the meantime, he should mind his own business, meaning Disney’s business, which is now in significant trouble. Americans are responding to Disney’s leftist push with their wallets, including mass-canceling their Disney+ subscriptions and their summer vacations. The value of Disney’s shares have dropped precipitously from its all-time high of $202 per share in March 2021 to $118 today, and it’s lost $50 billion in value in just the last eight weeks.

Monopolistic corporations are not in charge in America, the people are. And it’s about time that someone stood up to these publicly-owned bullies and put them in their place. The leaders of Disney have taken what was arguably America’s most storied company and turned it into a woke joke. Hopefully, with this move by the Florida legislative process, they’ll finally learn their lesson and get back to basics.

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