Disney CEO Bob Iger Speaks Out on Florida Feud Calling it “A Matter of Retaliation”

During an earnings call today, Disney CEO Bob Iger was asked about the ongoing feud between Disney and the state of Florida led by Governor Ron DeSantis. His response was strong and straightforward. In it, he stated Disney’s position and how he also saw Florida’s. In Iger’s opinion, it all comes down to retaliation.

“Regarding Florida, I have a few things I want to say about that bill,” Iger said. “First of all, the case that we filed last month made our position and the facts very clear. This is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation. And we believe that in us taking that position, we are merely exercising our right to free speech. Also, this is not about special privileges, or a level playing field, or Disney in any way using its leverage around the state of Florida.”

Iger continued saying, “But since there’s been a lot said about special districts and the arrangement that we had, I want to set the record straight on that, too. There are about 2,000 special districts in Florida, and most were established to foster investment in development. We were one of them. It basically made 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. So while it’s easy to say that the Reedy Creek special district, which was established for us over 50 years ago, benefited us, it’s misleading to not also consider how much Disney benefited the state of Florida. And we’re not the only company operating a special district. I mentioned the Daytona Speedway has one, a prominent retirement community, and there are countless others. So if the goal here is leveling the playing field and the uniform application of the law, government oversight of special districts needs to occur or be applied to all special districts.”

He wrapped up his thoughts by addressing the false tax break narrative saying, “There’s also a false narrative that we’ve been fighting to protect tax breaks. But in fact, we’re the largest taxpayer in Central Florida, paying over $1 billion in state and local taxes last year alone. We pay more taxes, specifically more real estate taxes, as a result of that special district, and we all know there was no concerted effort to do anything to dismantle what was once called Reedy Creek special district until we spoke out on the legislation. So this is plainly a matter of retaliation, while the rest of the Florida special districts continue operating basically as they were. I think it’s also important for us to say 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. We’re proud of the tourism industry that we created and we want to continue delivering the best possible experience for guests going forward. We never wanted, and we certainly never expected, to be in the position of having to defend our business interests in federal court, particularly having such a terrific relationship with the state as we’ve had for more than 50 years. And as I mentioned on our shareholder call, we have a huge opportunity to continue to invest in Florida. I noted that our plans are 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 and, by the way, we pay them substantially above the minimum wage dictated by the state of Florida. We also provide them with great benefits and free education. So I’m going to finish what is obviously kind of a long answer by asking one question: Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?”

This is the second time that Iger has spoken out about the issue on an earnings call. In the annual shareholder meeting that was held virtually, Iger made remarks about the ongoing feud calling the actions of the Governor “retaliatory” against Disney for “its exercise of a constitutional right.” He also said that they were “anti Florida” and “anti business.”

All of this is coming out as there is a lawsuit from Disney against Governor Ron DeSantis, the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and other Florida leaders. There is also a countersuit from the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board and multiple bills and initiatives being pushed through the local and state level to take control of the district and Disney as well.

The end of this feud is nowhere in sight. It also appears that neither Disney nor DeSantis and his followers have any intention of backing down. The outcome of this struggle could impact not just Disney but the business climate for the entire state of Florida for quite some time.