Disney chief Bob Iger calls Ron DeSantis ‘anti-business and anti-Florida’ | Florida

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Disney’s chief executive, Bob Iger, has lambasted the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, as “anti-business and anti-Florida” in the latest round of a bitter public battle between the Sunshine state’s most powerful corporation and its top elected official.

DeSantis and his Republican allies in the state legislature have targeted Walt Disney World, the Orlando-area entertainment resort that employs 75,000 people, since the company spoke out against the controversial Florida “don’t say gay” law curtailing classroom discussion of gender identity and sexuality amid mounting pressure from its employees to take a stand.

The centrepiece of DeSantis’s retaliation was persuading Florida lawmakers to create a new gubernatorially handpicked oversight board for the special tax district which manages the sprawling theme park complex. The board has increased state control over Disney World, which had effectively been allowed to self-govern for more than five decades previously.

At a shareholders’ meeting on Monday, Iger said that “a company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do” but the governor got “very angry over the position Disney took”.

“He’s decided to retaliate against us, including the naming of a new board to oversee the property, in effect to seek to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right. And that just seems really wrong to me,” Iger told shareholders.

Iger also said that Disney, which is the state’s largest corporate employer and taxpayer, was planning to invest more than $17bn in the resort over the next decade, creating an estimated 13,000 additional Disney jobs and thousands of other indirect jobs, which would “generate more taxes” and increase tourist numbers to the state.

“And so our premise is that 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,” said Iger, who was both praised and criticised by shareholders for the company’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights.

Iger’s fiery remarks came after DeSantis wrote to the Florida chief inspector general demanding an investigation into Disney’s efforts to circumvent his authority.

As one of its final actions in February, in a move which DeSantis seems to have only just cottoned on to, the Disney district oversight board pushed through an agreement giving the company control over most future construction in the district, hence limiting the new panel’s power for decades to come.

The agreement was approved at a public meeting on 8 February – three weeks before DeSantis named his five appointees, who include three campaign donors, a founder of the Moms for Liberty group that backed the “don’t say gay” law, and the head of a Christian ministry who spreads homophobic falsehoods.

“These collusive and self-dealing arrangements aim to nullify the recently passed legislation, undercut Florida’s legislative process and defy the will of Floridians,” DeSantis wrote to the chief inspector general he appointed in 2019, Melinda Miguel. “Any legal or ethical violations should be referred to the proper authorities.”

The oversight committee was a compromise of sorts for DeSantis. He initially pledged to disband the autonomous tax district enacted in 1967 but then realised that could land local governments in central Florida with more than $1bn in bond liabilities.

The tax district has allowed Disney to control as well as finance utilities, roads, fire and policing at the 25,000-acre resort, which the company claims has facilitated its growth to include four theme parks, two water parks and 18 Disney-owned hotels.

But despite this latest twist, DeSantis has vowed to wrestle back control over the company, and in a statement a spokesperson said “all legislative options are back on the table”.

Disney chief Bob Iger calls Ron DeSantis ‘anti-business and anti-Florida’ | Florida

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