Governor Ron DeSantis (D-FL) says he wants the Florida Legislature to look into revoking the special state tax benefits that Disney has held for over 50 years.
In 1967, Disney and the State of Florida reached an agreement that allowed the company to build Walt Disney World outside of Orlando. The state of Florida would receive an explosion of tourists coming to the state just to visit the park and, in exchange, the company would receive tax benefits.Read More »
In a proclamation issued Tuesday, Gov. DeSantis announced that a special session of the Florida legislature would take place in the capital of Tallahassee later this month, with the sole purpose of re-evaluating Disney’s special tax-free status.
The main reason Governor DeSantis wants to try to change this deal with The Walt Disney Corporation is because of a disagreement that took place over a bill in the Florida State Senate.
That piece of legislation was called “The Parental Rights in Education Bill,” although it has commonly been referred to by opponents, Democrats in the Florida Legislature, and the media as the “Don’t Say Gay bill.” It was famously referenced under that name by Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, and Regina Hall at this year’s Oscars.
What does the bill do?
According to its creators, the bill is designed to stop elementary schools from discussing LGBTQ topics in classrooms, including gender identity, homosexuality, and other such topics. Lessons would not be allowed in kindergarten through third grade and lessons for older students would have to be “age-appropriate.”
Additionally, the bill gives the students’ parents the right to sue their children’s school district if they feel their child is receiving gender identity or LGTBQ information at school without the parents’ permission.
Opponents worry about not being able to talk to school children about gender issues at all and are afraid that it will stifle discussion around LGBTQ issues in elementary schools.
In a statement issued by federal Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, he stated, “The Department of Education has made clear that all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights law. We stand with our LGBTQ+ students in Florida and across the country, and urge Florida leaders to make sure all their students are protected and supported.”
The Biden administration also suggested they would be monitoring the results of the bill to ensure that no federal civil rights laws are violated during enforcement.
At first, the Walt Disney Corporation offered no response to the bill one way or the other, preferring to stay out of it entirely. It was soon revealed, however, that Disney had been a major campaign contributor to the lawmakers who first proposed the bill.
However, after pressure against the company and its CEO, Bob Chapek, began to mount over their silence, including walk-outs planned by Disney employees and Pixar animators reinstating a lesbian kiss that had been previously removed from the Toy Story prequel “Lightyear” (in theaters June 17th) the Walt Disney Corporation released a statement that said:
“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”
In the statement, the Walt Disney Corporation pledged $5 million to various LGBTQ advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Council.
DeSantis’ Reaction to Disney’s Reaction
In response to Disney’s statement, Governor DeSantis said to a local Fox affiliate, “If the people who held Harvey Weinstein up oppose us on parents’ rights, I wear that like a badge of honor. I’m not backing down.”
The Governor went on to say, “We’ve seen libraries that have clearly inappropriate pornographic materials for very young kids, and we’ve seen services that were given to students without the consent or even knowledge of their parents across the country, and unfortunately, that’s happened here in the state of Florida.”
Shortly thereafter, DeSantis suggested removing Disney’s tax incentives and discounts over their statements. The idea was also floated in an op-ed piece written by US Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican who represents Florida’s First House District.
Disney’s Taxpaying History
Despite all of the benefits Disney receives from the state, they are still central Florida’s largest taxpayer, paying over $556 million in taxes to local and state governments in 2021.
What Comes Next?
For now, the future of Disney’s tax benefits is uncertain, especially since they have, as of the time of writing, refused comment from any number of media organizations that have asked.
On one hand, The Walt Disney Corporation has been known to find tax loopholes that benefit them in the past, like putting a bunch of sheep on unused grasslands near the park, allowing them to take advantage of an agricultural tax credit.
Another inventive tax-avoidance plan that the company uses involves selling travel packages at a lower rate than actual customers pay to a company that the Walt Disney Corporation also owns, which allows them to only pay taxes on the lower amount.
With these facts in mind, it is very possible that The Walt Disney Corporation may just find another way to reduce its tax bill if Gov. DeSantis gets his way and the official tax incentives disappear.
However, the main thing is that Disney World has been outside of Orlando for over 50 years and the odds are pretty low, no matter the tax or political situation, that the park is going to close any time soon.