DeSantis v Disney: the Fight for Magic in America

One of the main goals of individual states and the nation is to entice businesses to make their home inside the state’s or country’s borders. For a media and entertainment superpower such as Disney to make one of the world’s biggest and most popular theme parks in Florida was a gift to Walt Disney’s favorite state. Walt Disney World brings in 30-60 million people to Orlando, pays $1.15 billion in tax money, employs 75,000 people (second only to Publix), and brings in $75.2 billion to Florida in revenue every year without the government paying a cent. Disney is able to do this because, in 1967, Disney and Florida created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which virtually gave Disney government control over the area in which Disney World is located and gave special taxes on their property. Any other state governor would highly desire and treasure this type of popularity and, more importantly, money, but Disney did something unforgivable in the eyes of the current governor of Florida (Ron DeSantis): protecting gay rights. 

Last year, after immense pressure from Disney employees, Disney CEO, Bob Iger, and Disney World CEO, Bob Chapek, were forced to speak out against the new Parental Rights in Education Act (a law that restricts teachers to not talk about their private life with students, also called the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill), publically, formally, and theoretically supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and promised to lobby against it. Looking for a victory in the wake of an upcoming presidential election that the Floridian Governor hopes to participate in, Ron DeSantis abolished the Reedy Creek Improvement Act and District. This action was entirely too hasty. Florida gained control over the property and taxes of Disney World (in which Florida has a dismal 6% sales tax and a 0.98% property tax) with a five-person council that Disney immediately stacked with supporters. However, it also made Florida responsible for the millions of dollars of expenses and all the inspections of Disney World (in which Florida inspection rules are looser than Disney’s). 

Round two for Ron DeSantis: the governor counters with legislation that says Disney’s council stacking was illegal, Disney concedes, and Ron DeSantis fills the council seats with nepotistic and anti-lgbt+ members. But what DeSantis’s council doesn’t control is Disney’s IPs. This is until twenty-one years after the last ancestor of King Charles III dies (this is called the King Charles Clause and is completely legal due to Common Law precedent from Britain in 1692). Even if the entirety of the current royal family dies off, Florida won’t fully control Walt Disney World until 2044 while Disney keeps a slightly reduced billion-dollar per year profit.

The irony is Disney won before the first law was proposed. At the beginning of the feud, Disney lawyers negotiated a weaker law with gubernatorial representatives that would take away a few useless clauses in the Reedy Creek Improvement Act, such as the right to construct a nuclear reactor, but the Governor refused. Even if Ron DeSantis struck for the heart and sued Disney World based on Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill”, Disney could appeal to the Florida Supreme Court or the Federal Supreme Court and repeal the entire Florida Parental Rights in Education Act on a First Amendment basis (or at least in theory because the Supreme Court has a vengeance against stare decisis). Ron DeSantis claims victory, despite his clear legal defeat, and jokes about opening a state prison next to the amusement park.

The future of Florida’s and DeSantis’s new control over Disney World is still in jeopardy and may change within a couple of months or centuries from now, but one thing is for certain in our current world of mass entertainment empires and monopolies that control the world: if you disturb the Magic Kingdom, you’ll lose, they have really good lawyers. If you or anyone you know visits Disney World this summer or any other time of the year, remember this funny and short excerpt in American history and heed this lesson: don’t mess with the mouse.

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