Disney: If you strike me down... Slaying some myths
Disney will be more politicized than ever, Florida taxpayers will pay more, and Gov. DeSantis will waltz off the stage in 2024 to run for president.
Over the years, Florida’s legislature has flirted with curtailing or revoking Disney’s autonomy in building and running Walt Disney World, but this time it appears they are ready to go through with it. Florida’s Senate, urged on by Gov. Ron DeSantis, approved a bill to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was originally passed in 1967 to make Walt Disney’s dream real.
Disney waded into the politics of “don’t say gay” against its own better judgment, after first remaining neutral. In the push-and-shove between giant corporations and governments, it gets lost in the fog and sparks who started this fight. I think we can squarely point at Gov. DeSantis as drawing “first blood.” The Parental Rights in Education bill DeSantis signed is a poorly-written political throwaway that encourages parents to go full Karen when dealing with overtly gay and transgender topics promulgated by certain schools. David Thornton did yeoman’s work covering the bill and Disney’s involvement.
Disney’s motivation in this is to pacify its workforce in central Florida. Disney itself worships money, but many of its employees are woke. There are 77,000 “cast members” who work at WDW, and that includes a thriving LBGTQ+ community. They weren’t going to stay out of a bill dubbed “don’t say gay” by its detractors. That moniker doesn’t really fit what the bill does, but hey, this is politics, not governing. For Disney, it’s just business.
So let’s assume for the purpose of this article that Florida’s legislature pulls the trigger and dissolves the Reedy Creek Improvement District. What will happen? Will it be a “disaster” for Disney, as Orlando’s TV news 6 political analyst Jim Clark said? Clark’s been quoted all over the media, including the Washington Post. While I think that might be the intent of Republican lawmakers, to make it look like Disney faces disaster, in reality I don’t think it will play out that way. Let’s get out the light saber and slay some myths.
Myth 1: Disney pays no taxes for WDW. While it’s true Disney doesn’t pay certain infrastructure-related assessments because these are carried out by RCID, the park does pay property taxes to Orange and Osceola Counties. Between 2015 through 2020, Disney paid $296.2 million in property taxes to Orange County, and sued, claiming former Property Appraiser Rick Singh overvalued the park property. The county settled, giving back more than $8 million. Disney pays taxes to the State of Florida, the counties in which the park land sits, Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, and the South Florida Water Management District. These taxes won’t change if RCID is dissolved.
Myth 2: Local residents will benefit in their tax bill by political control of WDW. Nope. In fact, it will cost local taxpayers money, according to reporting by the Miami Herald’s Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas.
Since Disney backs RCID’s bonds—the District is rated AA by credit rating agency Fitch—when RCID is dissolved, these bonds would pass from the company to the taxpayers of Orange and Osceola Counties.
Myth 3: Disney will be incentivized to stay out of politics. Also, no. Orange County is the bluest county in Florida. Disney is the largest employer in that county. I wrote this a few weeks ago:
Here’s another fact: Orange County, Florida is governed by Democrats. Mayor Jerry Demings is a Democratic Party stalwart. Commissioner Nicole Wilson is “fighting for the rights of her constituents and nature.” Of the other five commissioners, only one—Christine Moore—is a Republican, and she is facing a strong Democrat challenger in 2022.
To maintain its very high standards for infrastructure, Disney will lobby the living hell out of Orange County commissioners. Right now, RCID makes the red tape go away when Disney wants to upgrade an attraction, or build a new lodge, or implement a new mosquito control system, or whatever. But Disney still has to pay for all these things. To think that Orange County will simply take over what Disney has done for the past nearly 60 years and do a better job, you should probably go the Fantasy Land.
Also, 77,000 employees can make a lot of noise, which will be heard all the way in Tallahassee. Dissolving RCID, not the threat of it, but doing it, is an overt act that won’t go unnoticed by taxpayers whose paychecks derive from the Mouse, if not directly then indirectly, as in the thousands of restaurant workers, hoteliers, shop keepers, and everyone else who lives in central Florida tending the world’s biggest tourist attraction.
Disney will be more politicized than ever.
Myth 4: Disney will move WDW somewhere else. LOL. Like where? Colorado? Gov. Jared Solis, who is a pretty reasonable guy, invited Disney to come to the Rockies.
Walt Disney picked Florida for a reason. It’s warm. The weather is nice most of the time, and the rare times when hurricanes blow through don’t impact the rest of the year. It’s on the east coast. At the time, the land was relatively cheap. Disney has invested billions and billions into developing the park. Central Florida has been completely transformed by its presence. There really isn’t another place on earth like WDW. It’s not going to move. Even the thought of it is silly.
Myth 5: Conservatives will shun WDW. This is more a matter of opinion, but I think most conservatives with small kids, the money to spend, and the time to go, will continue to visit the parks. I have been to WDW since I was a kid, when it had just opened. As a father, I’ve taken Disney cruises with my family, at one time was an owner with Disney Vacation Club, and have stayed at non-WDW resorts. Disney gives guests a good experience. That won’t change. If you’re the kind of person who cares if your table server is outwardly gay, then you’re probably not the most forgiving person in the first place.
I don’t care about Disney’s politics when I visit their parks. I know that many of the people whose salaries I help pay have political and religious opinions in direct opposition to mine. Oh well. I pay taxes, too and some of that money has gone to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and some of it now goes to AOC and MTG. If I had my druthers, I’d give all of them nothing. But at least Disney gives me something fun and memorable in return.
Some conservatives will shun Disney, and they have the right to do with their money as they wish. But it’s virtue signaling of the highest order.
In short, if Florida’s legislature pulls the trigger and does away with RCID, nothing much will change. Disney will still run the parks the way they’ve been running them. Some employees might transition from RCID or Disney to Orange County. Orange County and the State of Florida are not foolish enough to ruin the state’s biggest tourist draw by creating red tape. Florida taxpayers, if they have to bear an extra burden, are going to want something for their money.
If I have to bet, I’d say that lawmakers will balk at the last minute. But if they don’t, Gov. DeSantis won’t be the one having to deal with the consequences. He’ll waltz off the stage in 2024 in a presidential run, and leave everyone else in Tallahassee and central Florida wit the mess this created. The biggest myth to bust here is that Republicans are accomplishing something good in Florida by dissolving RCID. There’s nothing good about it.
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My predictions (speculation) are that the financial and tax implications of abolishing the Reedy Creek Improvement District will be a wash. And, that Disney will remain influential in Florida, but the influence will depend on politicians who are not as reliable as state laws. And, that Disney will remain very profitable in Florida.
That's a lot of moving parts. Speculating on the outcome is pretty iffy.