We have our first Disney acknowledgement of the Florida Republican plan to strip Walt Disney World’s special tax status as retaliation for the company expressing objections to Florida’s new and dystopian anti-LGBT law, and the company doesn’t sound too worried about any of it. As reported by the The Miami Herald, Disney reported to its investors that since Florida state law prohibits dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District unless the all the outstanding bonds debts in district are paid off, and since the law Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pressed for doesn’t do that, the erasure of the district can’t happen.
So, Disney has told its investors, it will be “continuing its present operations” while it waits to see how the state government digs themselves out of that rather large hole. The general message is that they ain’t worried and investors shouldn’t be worried either. Since Disney has a vault of lawyers bigger and deeper than Scrooge McDuck’s own money pits, they’re going to be pretty confident about this one.
Outside analysts all appear confident as well; while there might be long-term downsides for Disney in losing its current level of control over the infrastructure surrounding Walt Disney World, where Disney builds and runs everything from the local fire department to the sewer systems, in the short term, Disney would make out very well if DeSantis and crew follow through with the threat.
Florida Republicans would have to agree to pay off the over $1 billion in current bonds; Disney would get out of about $160 million per year by transferring those services to Orange County. The Herald notes that Orange County’s current yearly budget is about $600 million per year, which means county taxpayers would be seeing steep new taxes to pay for the Republican stunt. Permanent steep taxes. Forever.
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It appears Florida Sen. Rick Scott isn’t the only state Republican whose most important plans all involve hiking taxes on regular Americans so that the Republican upper class can keep implementing their new bouts of cruelty. Cranking up taxes appears to be a new Florida Republican obsession!
All of this presumes that Disney’s current special district can be erased without its consent, which is also unclear, and while it has been typical for state Republicans everywhere to simply ignore the potential illegality of new laws when passing them, Disney has enough lawyers and enough public power to make that a difficult proposition. Despite the considerable tax windfall the company would get from no longer having to provide municipal services to the communities just outside their park borders, corporate history suggests they will fight tooth and nail to keep control of those lands. Walt Disney himself was continually frustrated by the tacky hotels and businesses that popped up outside the entrance of his Disneyland park in Anaheim, and the move to Florida was made explicitly so that Disney could purchase a massive chunk of land and govern what visitors saw outside the park as well as inside it.
Disney takes great pride in the cleanliness and (cough) terrifying enforced normality of its Florida neighborhoods, and has many decades of internalized distrust for how a local government it does not completely control might harm its own reputation.
In the back of everyone’s minds might also be concerns over just how far Ron DeSantis, professional presidential aspirant, is willing to go to harm one of his state’s most critical employers (because, remember, the company issued a statement Ron didn’t like). Would Florida Republicans just cement over Reedy Creek sewers and disband the fire department outright? Probably not, because the surrounding locals depend on Walt Disney World for their own neighborhoods’ continued existence and would step in to eat whatever taxes they had to eat. But DeSantis and the other state Republicans have gone fully fascist in their demands that corporate rhetoric mirror that of the state and that corporations that do not do so will be dealt with by passing bills aimed specifically at damaging them. This will be an exceptionally fun fight to watch.
This time state Republicans aren’t attacking middle school students with two moms or two dads, or trying to block teen rape victims from ending their pregnancies, or announcing new programs for parents to report teachers whose lesson plans might make the children of white racists feel uncomfortable. They’re up against Disney, and Disney is not particularly frightened here.
If Republicans can make Donald Trump president, I assure you Disney can successfully change the U.S. Constitution to allow Air Bud to run for president against Ron DeSantis. They can also develop an entire new animated television series portraying Ron DeSantis as a Matt-Gaetz-linked sex-trafficking hyena with poor hygiene and a secret underground den for doing crimes if DeSantis really insists on waging a new culture war with the company that has shaped American “culture” more than any other.
This company has been shaping American laws since before DeSantis was born. I do not think Florida Republicans threatening their tax status will work out badly for Disney no matter how it turns out. More importantly, however, the rest of the American corporate class needs to take a long look at the party that mounted a violent coup, regularly promotes hoaxes that damage the public health and stir up violence in public places, and which is increasingly using the apparatus of the state to punish, specifically, companies that do not parrot their own talking points.
Perhaps companies should not be funding these politicians in the first place. Perhaps financing the campaigns of such people is a net corporate loss—and perhaps there are non-fascists who are just as willing to bend to corporate lobbying but who do not play those games. The American public should not be begging corporate America to stop funding seditionists, propagandists, and the terminally corrupt. Corporate America should itself be flinching as Republican lawmakers advertise their eagerness to retaliate against companies who don’t go along with the propaganda.
Supporting elected officials who game out ways to harm corporate shares doesn’t seem too good for shareholders, does it? It might be time for corporate America to apply some of that amoral corporate greed that they claim they are legally bound by when doing terrible things to the country; hey, it turns out that not funding fascism is a pretty solid net plus to the bottom line.
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