by Ray Keating
February 27, 2023
A weird political moment for Florida and The Walt Disney Company came to a climax on Monday, February 27, when Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed House Bill (HB) 9-B. The law renames the Reedy Creek Improvement District as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and it replaces the governing board – from those appointed by the landowners, i.e., Disney, to those appointed by the Florida governor, with approval by the state senate.
Reedy Creek had been established in 1967, and it allowed Disney to self-govern development and assorted services within the boundaries of the land upon which Disney World sits. This long-established set up came under attack last year.
Disney foolishly weighed in against a piece of Florida education legislation that had nothing to do with its business, doing so under pressure from various left-wing groups within and outside the company. DeSantis saw a political opportunity to gin up his base, and pushed legislation that would end Reedy Creek.
The details eventually were hammered out. And as expected, the appointees put forth by DeSantis for the governing board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District are his political allies. And that will be the case with future governors, no matter the political party, as well. What these political appointees will mean for the operations, including costs, of running the district aren’t completely clear, but it’s safe to say that costs will increase.
The politics driving the situation aren’t exactly being hidden, as DeSantis was quoted by CNN saying the following at the signing on Monday: “Disney came out against something that was really just about protecting young kids, and making sure that students are able to go to school learning to read, write, add, subtract, and not having a teacher tell them that they can change their gender. And I think most parents agree with that. But you know, that was only a mild annoyance. I think that what we came to realize after that dust settled on that was you clearly had a movement within the corporation itself.”
Whether one agrees with DeSantis or not, the dangers of the government punishing a particular entity because it disagreed with what it had to say on a political issue should be obvious to all.
In fact, CNN noted: “While the move was celebrated by conservative media, several of DeSantis' would-be GOP rivals have been critical. Former Vice President Mike Pence said the conflict with Disney was ‘beyond the scope of what I as a conservative, limited government Republican would be prepared to do.’ And New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said penalizing businesses for political speech set ‘the worst precedent in the world.’”
Apparently, the bill signing went even further for the politics. CNN pointed out, “Monday's bill signing event turned into a lengthy takedown of Disney that extended beyond its foray in Florida’s legislative activity. DeSantis featured speakers who assailed the company’s vaccine and mask policies, its treatment of firefighters and its more recent entertainment offerings.”
The labor union representing various Reedy Creek workers has been onboard with this effort by DeSantis. After all, unions far prefer dealing with government than with a private business. A labor union and a Republican governor who touts himself as a conservative working together to undermine a leading business in the state? More weirdness.
In reality, the key troubling ability that Disney had via Reedy Creek was to issue tax-free municipal bonds to fund its projects. Long ago, that subsidy should have been tightened up considerably or eliminated.
However, what Disney was able to achieve via Reedy Creek in terms of reduced costs and delays than what normally would be imposed via local government, and the resulting economic benefits achieved for the company, its workers, and the overall region and state, should serve as a positive example of what limited regulation can achieve. One might think that this would be something that Republicans would want to find a way to capitalize on and expand to other businesses. A constructive question would have been: What could be learned from the Reedy Creek example that could be applied far more widely to businesses in Florida and elsewhere? Perhaps enterprise zones that reduce regulatory burdens?
But instead DeSantis declared, “Allowing a corporation to control its own government is bad policy, especially when the corporation makes decisions that impact an entire region. This legislation ends Disney’s self-governing status, makes Disney live under the same laws as everybody else, and ensures that Disney pays its debts and fair share of taxes.”
Of course, Disney always was paying its debt and taxes, and that only would have changed if state lawmakers had changed the law accordingly.
In the end, many Republicans today seem far more interested in pushing a war on “wokeness,” rather than emphasizing policies that promote opportunity and economic growth, not to mention the idea of persuading others with sound arguments supporting your values, ideas and policies across the board.
Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com; and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant thrillers and mysteries, and the Alliance of Saint Michael novels; and assorted nonfiction books. Have Ray Keating speak your group, business, school, church, or organization. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed here are his own – after all, no one else should be held responsible for this stuff, right?
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