A view of Walt Disney World’s theme park entrance on July 8, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Octavio Jones | Getty Images News | Getty Images
The Walt Disney Company is not the only business in Florida that operates within a special district, CEO Bob Iger reminded investors on Wednesday.
He noted that Daytona Speedway and The Villages retirement community are within two of nearly 2,000 special districts in the state and have not been under the same scrutiny that Disney has experienced in the past year.
“The case that we filed last month made our position and the facts very clear,” he said on a earnings call. “And it’s really that this is about one thing and one thing only and that is to retaliate against us for taking a stand on pending legislation.”
The fight began last year, when Disney came out against a Florida bill restricting classroom discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity, which critics called “Don’t Say Gay.”
DeSanti’s office referred CNBC to earlier comments by the governor.
“You can’t have a situation where the Legislature has spoken and a company just decides to contract against the will of the people,” Gov. said during an interview with Newsmax on Friday. “At the end of the day, they just have to understand that the party is over for them.”
DeSantis is expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, although he is a distant second in primary polls to former President Donald Trump, a fellow Florida native.
Earlier this week, Disney expanded its federal lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, accusing the Republican leader of doubling down on his “retaliation campaign” against the company by sign legislation to invalidate Disney’s development agreement in Orlando.
Disney’s amended lawsuit also noted that Florida’s Republican-led legislature passed legislation last week targeting Walt Disney World’s monorail system.
Iger addressed the “false narrative” that Disney is fighting DeSantis to protect tax breaks in the district. He said the company is the largest taxpayer in Central Florida, having paid more than $1.1 billion in state and local taxes last year.
“And we all know that there was no concerted effort to do anything to dismantle what was once called the Reedy Creek Special District until we spoke out about the legislation,” he said. “So this is clearly a matter of retaliation while the rest of Florida’s special districts continue to operate essentially as they were.”
Iger said if the state’s goal is to “level the playing field,” then the oversight must be applied to all special districts.
“And I think it’s also important for us to say that our primary goal has always been to be able to continue to do exactly what we’ve been doing there, which is investing in Florida,” he added. “We never wanted, and we never expected, to have to defend our business interests in federal court, especially having such a great relationship with the state that we’ve had for more than 50 years.”
Iger said Disney still plans to spend more than $17 billion in investments at Walt Disney World over the next decade, which would create about 13,000 jobs at the company and generate even more taxes for Florida. The company currently employs more than 75,000 people in the area.