Disney CEO Bob Iger said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ attacks on the company threaten its plans for $17 billion of investment and 13,000 new jobs at Disney World over the next 10 years.
In comments Wednesday during a call with investors, Iger defended Disney as Florida attempts to wrest control of powers granted to a special taxing district overseeing Disney World’s zoning decisions. Disney and Florida are locked in a legal battle.
Iger did not mention DeSantis by name or explicitly say Disney is reconsidering its planned investment. But he said Florida is acting unfairly to the company and asked: “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes or not?”
The comments were similar to ones that Iger made at the company’s annual shareholders meeting a month ago in which he said “any action that thwarts those efforts, simply to retaliate for a position the company took sounds not just anti-business, but it sounds anti-Florida.”
Spokespeople for Disney did not immediately respond to a question Thursday on whether the company is considering dropping its planned $17 billion investment. And DeSantis’ press office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening on Iger’s latest comments.
Last month, Disney sued the state of Florida in federal court, charging that the state is illegally trying to punish the company for exercising its First Amendment rights to oppose legislation backed by DeSantis and the Republican-controlled legislature in the state. The legislation at issue, passed last year, limited discussions of LGBTQ issues in Florida schools, a bill that opponents referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Disney has for decades controlled a special taxing district that had the right to make zoning decisions in and around Disney World. The state attempted to give state appointees control of the board, but the Disney-appointed board preempted the state by giving Disney control of the powers traditionally granted to the district for decades to come.
DeSantis then threatened to take further action against Disney, even suggesting the state might decide to build a state prison adjacent to the theme park. That prompted Disney’s federal lawsuit and a countersuit by Florida.
DeSantis claimed that Florida wants to level the playing field and stop the company from living under a different set of rules than other businesses in the state.
On Wednesday’s call Iger defended Disney, saying that there are about 2,000 special districts like the one at the center of the dispute, designed to make it “easier for us and others, by the way, to do business in Florida. And we built a business that employs, as we’ve said before, over 75,000 people and attracts tens of millions of people to the state.”
“If the goal is leveling the playing field,” Iger said, “then a uniform application of the law or government oversight of special districts needs to occur or be applied to all special districts.”
“Our primary goal has always been to be able to continue to do exactly what we’ve been doing,” said Iger. “We have a huge opportunity to continue to invest in Florida. I noted that our plans were to invest $17 billion over the next 10 years, which is what the state should want us to do. We operate responsibly. We pay our fair share of taxes. We employ thousands of people there.”
– CNN’s Steve Contorno contributed to this report