When the state of Florida dissolved the Reedy Creek Improvement District which oversaw Walt Disney World and replaced it with a new board of Governor Ron DeSantis’ hand-picked supporters, it did so without much response from Disney. It seemed like the battle that started months ago was over. But it turns out it was only just getting started. It was later revealed that Disney had taken steps prior to the law change to protect itself. DeSantis is now threatening retaliation, but his newest statements would likely hurt Florida locals and vacationing families more than the Mouse.
Speaking at Florida’s Hillsdale College (via Politico) DeSantis used the same tough talk that he has been using in his battle with Disney, saying that “Come hell or high water we’re going to make sure that policy of Florida carries the day.” Beyond that, however, the governor suggested that the state would consider changes within the district, including hotel taxes, tolls on roads, and developing land within the district.
What Florida’s Governor Is Threatening To Do TO Walt Disney World
The problem is that if the goal of these changes is to somehow punish Disney for daring to speak against the state, two of the three of them likely wouldn’t have a material impact on Walt Disney World and would instead become issues for vacationers visiting the resort as well as Florida locals. Tolls on roads leading into Walt Disney World will simply be paid by the people driving in, and any additional hotel taxes will simply be passed on to guests– either directly or through an increase in room rates.
It’s hard to see how this would be anything but bad news for the state of Florida. Tourism is the state’s biggest industry, and Walt Disney World is the single largest reason for that. While increasing the cost of visiting through hotel taxes and tolls might conceivably hit Disney’s bottom line, it would also hurt the state if fewer tourists visit the state. People visit Florida because Disney World is there, not the other way around.
Tolls on the roads leading into Walt Disney World would be paid primarily by Florida locals. Guests with annual passes who visit the parks frequently or even just people who like to go to a particular restaurant at a Disney World hotel will be the ones paying these tolls, and that’s just going to mean unhappy voters. There are multiple services offering guests transportation to Walt Disney World and it seems likely that if driving a car on property becomes too expensive, people will just use these services more. One wonders if Disney World might consider bringing back the Magical Express.
The third punishment DeSantis suggests, developing land within Walt Disney World is at least something Disney wouldn’t want to see, but then that’s where the current battle is taking place. A deal that Disney and the Reedy Creek Improvement District made prior to the new Florida law taking effect gives Disney direct control over the resort and strips the new district of most of the power that the previous board had. While DeSantis continues to assure people that the state will win in the end, and he has asked for a state investigation of the agreement with Disney, there’s no obviously illegal or questionable problem that would make it invalid.
Why Disney and Florida Are At War
This all stems back to a law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis last year that detractors referred to as “Don’t Say Gay.” As the largest single-site employer in Florida, those against the bill asked Disney to speak out against it, which the company ultimately did. As a result, DeSantis took aim at the company for speaking out.
In the 1960s the Florida legislature created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which exclusively oversaw the area of land owned by Disney. It gave the company significantly more power over that land than it would otherwise have, but also made Disney responsible for maintaining that land itself. The governor decided that Disney had too much power, and signed a new law last month that put the district under the governor’s control.
During Disney’s recent Shareholders Meeting, CEO Bob Iger called DeSantis’ retaliatory moves anti-business and anti-Florida. At this point, it seems likely that the courts will be making the ultimate decision regarding the future of Walt Disney World.