A view of the Walt Disney World theme park entrance on July 8, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Octavio Jones | Getty Images News | Getty Images
The Walt Disney Company isn’t the only business in Florida that operates within a special district, CEO Bob Iger reminded investors Wednesday.
He noted that the Daytona Speedway and the retirement community The Villages reside within two of nearly 2,000 special districts in the state and have not been under the same scrutiny Disney has experienced in the last year.
“The case that we filed last month made our position and the facts very clear,” he said during an earnings call. “And that’s really that this is about one thing and one thing only and that’s retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation.”
The battle began last year, when Disney came out against a Florida bill limiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity, which critics dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.”
DeSantis’ office didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on Iger’s remarks. DeSantis is expected to run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, although he is a distant second in primary polls to former President Donald Trump, a fellow Florida resident.
Earlier this week, Disney expanded its federal lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, accusing the Republican leader of doubling down on his “retribution campaign” against the company by signing legislation to void Disney’s development deals in Orlando.
Disney’s amended lawsuit also noted that Florida’s Republican-led Legislature passed legislation last week targeting Walt Disney World’s monorail system.
Iger addressed the “false narrative” that Disney is battling DeSantis to protect tax breaks in the district. He said the company is the largest taxpayer in central Florida, having paid more than $1.1 billion in state and local taxes last year.
“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,” he said. “So this is plainly a matter of retaliation while the rest of the Florida special districts continue operating basically as they were.”
Iger said that if the state’s goal is to “level the playing field,” then the oversight needs to be applied to all special districts.
“And 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,” he added. “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.”
Iger said Disney still plans to spend more than $17 billion in investments at Walt Disney World over the next decade, which would create around 13,000 jobs at the company and generate even more taxes for Florida. The company currently employs more than 75,000 people in the area.