Disney CEO Bob Iger Reconsiders $17 Billion Florida Investment Amid Lawsuit with Governor

Earlier today during the Question and Answer portion of the Walt Disney Company’s Q2 Earnings call, CEO Bob Iger addressed the ongoing battle between the company and Florida state Governor Ron DeSantis, alluding to the possibility of pulling all future investment from the state.

What’s Happening:

  • Earlier today, the Walt Disney Company held their Q2 earnings call, where a question was posed during the Question and Answer session wherein CEO Bob Iger took the opportunity to address the ongoing feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Walt Disney Company.
  • After explaining and reiterating that the company is suing DeSantis because his actions are clearly reactionary and vindictive due to the opposition of what is commonly referred to as the “don’t say gay”’ bill in the state, Iger emphasizes that there are over 2,000 special districts in Florida and what was formerly known as Reedy Creek was the only one that DeSantis is targeting.
  • As such, Iger concluded with a statement alluding to the fact that all future investment ($17 billion) in the property that had previously been announced could get pulled, saying “So, I’m going to finish…by asking one question. Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes or not?”
  • This statement comes as progress is being made in California in the Disneyland Forward effort, a campaign the company is taking to work with the local community to get areas rezoned to further expand the destination for an audience that now seeks more integrated experiences for the entirety of their stay.

What Bob is Saying:

  • Disney CEO Bob Iger: “Regarding Florida, I have got a few things I want to say about that…First of all I think the case that we filed last month made our position and the facts very clear and that is really that this is about one thing and one thing only – and that is retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation. And we believe that in us taking that position we are merely exercising our right to free speech. Also this is not about special privileges or a level playing field or Disney in any way using its leverage around the state of Florida. But since there’s been a lot said about special districts and the arrangement that we have, I want to set the record straight on that too.

There are about 2000 special districts in Florida. Most are established to foster investor development where we were one of them. He basically made it easier for us and others…by the way to do business in Florida and we built a business that employs, as we said before, over 75,000 people and attracts tens of millions of people to the state.

So while it is easy to say that the Reedy Creek special district that was established for us over 50 years ago benefitted us, it is misleading to not also consider how much Disney benefitted the state of Florida. And we are also, we are not the only company operating a special district. I mentioned 2000, for example, the Daytona Speedway, it has one. So do The Villages, which is a permanent retirement community and there are countless others.

So the goal here is…if the goal is leveling the playing field in the uniform application of the law or government oversight of special districts needs to occur or be applied to all special districts. There’s also a false narrative that we have been fighting to protect tax breaks as part of this. But in fact, we are the largest taxpayer in Central Florida paying over $1.1 billion in state and local taxes last year alone.

We pay more taxes, specifically more real estate taxes as a result of that special district. And we all know there was no concerted effort to do anything to dismantle what was once called Reedy Creek special district until we spoke about the legislation. So this is plainly a matter of retaliation while the rest of the Florida special districts continue operating basically as they were.

I think it’s also important for us to say our primary goal has all been to be able to continue to do exactly what we have been doing there, which is investing in Florida. We are proud of the tourism industry that we created and we ant to continue delivering the best possible experience for our guests going forward. We never wanted and we certainly never expected to be in the position of having to defend our business interests in federal court, particularly having such a terrific relationship with the state as we have had for more than 50 years.

And as I mentioned on our shareholder call, we have a huge opportunity to invest in Florida. I noted that our plans are to invest $17 billion over the next 10 years, which is what the state should want us to do. We operate responsibly. We pay our fair share of taxes. We employ thousands of people and, by the way, we pay them above the minimum wage – substantially above the minimum wage dictated by the state of Florida. We also provide them with great benefits and a free education. So I’m going to finish what is obviously kind of a long answer by asking one question. Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes or not?”

Tony Betti
Originally from California where he studied a dying artform (hand-drawn animation), Tony has spent most of his adult life in the theme parks of Orlando. When he’s not writing for LP, he’s usually watching and studying something animated or arguing about “the good ole’ days” at the parks.