Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a bill that takes control of a special tax district surrounding Walt Disney World that for half a century allowed Walt Disney Co to operate with a high degree of autonomy.
“The corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” DeSantis said during a press event at Lake Buena Vista near Orlando.
I signed legislation to end Disney’s self-governing status, placed the area in state receivership, and appointed 5 members to a state control board.
Disney no longer has its own government, will live under the same laws as everyone else and pay its debts and fair share of taxes. pic.twitter.com/5JnZmEjSdv
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) February 27, 2023
State Republicans last year targeted Disney after it publicly clashed with DeSantis, who is widely considered to be running for president in 2024, over a law that restricts classroom instruction of gender and sexual orientation. The bill titled the “Parental Rights in Education,” erroneously nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents, is one of the ways that DeSantis has sought to give parents more of a voice in their children’s school.
In March, Disney’s then-chief executive officer, Bob Chapek, publicly voiced disappointment with the bill limiting LGBTQ discussion in schools, saying he called DeSantis to express concern about the legislation becoming law.
In a move political observers viewed as retaliation for Disney’s view on the “Don’t Say Gay” measure, Florida lawmakers this month passed a bill, which DeSantis signed into law, that authorizes the governor to appoint five supervisors to oversee traditional municipal services, such a fire protection, public utilities, waste collection and road maintenance in the region where Disney World operates. The quasi-government entity also has the authority to raise revenue to pay outstanding debt and cover the cost of services.
“We have a situation here that was basically indefensible from a policy perspective,” DeSantis said. “How do you give one theme park its own government and then treat all the other theme parks differently? We believe that that was not good policy.”
A spokesperson for Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Speakers at the bill-signing ceremony included a parent who criticized Disney for speaking out against the state’s education bill, saying the company, “chose the wrong side of the moral argument.” Another person who identified himself as a longtime Disney theme park employee took issue with the company’s policies regarding vaccinations.
Disney World is the largest employer in central Florida with close to 75,000 employees and drew 36.2 million visitors in 2021, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.
Disney shares were up 0.4% on Monday.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters