Trump calls Ron DeSantis’ Disney battle a ‘hoax’

Former president accuses Florida governor and potential 2024 rival of launching a PR stunt

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 13 March 2023 15:43 GMT
Ron DeSantis takes control of Disney World’s governing structure

Following Ron DeSantis’ effective state takeover of a governing board for Disney World properties, his potential 2024 rival Donald Trump has called the Florida governor’s war with the Walt Disney Company a public relations “hoax”.

“Ron DeSanctimonious totally caved in his public relations inspired battle with Disney,” the former president wrote on his Truth Social platform on 12 March.

“That’s the only reason he went after them in the first place, to show Mr Tough Guy,” he added, claiming that Disney and the governor “probably worked together to make him look like a fighter.”

After Disney’s delayed public objection to what opponents have called Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law last year, Mr DeSantis and his administration lashed out at the company, igniting a feud that escalated to Republican threats to punish Disney’s operations in the state, ultimately resulting in his administration taking control of a decades-old governing structure that operates Disney’s sprawling campus.

In February, the governor signed a bill that amounts to a state takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which is now made up with his own appointees.

The former president also told supporters to read “preeminent authority on Disney” Richard Foglesong, who told the Financial Times that the new arrangement “didn’t really end Disney’s special advantages” but “the composition of the board poses a threat to Disney’s business interests.”

An initial proposal would have effectively dissolved the district, which operates as a governing body around Disney World properties in Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista spanning 39 square miles and land across Orange and Osceola counties.

The governor and his administration insisted that the proposal merely intended to block what they called “special privileges” for big business in the state, though his campaign fundraising messages promoting Reedy Creek’s demise pointed to Disney’s “woke” opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” measure.

State lawmakers later bristled at the plan over concerns that eliminating the district would burden Florida residents with higher property taxes who would be forced to pay for Disney’s own infrastructure projects and services.

The district, implemented in 1967, allows Disney to effectively tax itself to foot its bill for all of its municipal needs, including land use, zoning rules, water, sanitation, emergency services and infrastructure maintenance.

With Disney as the primary landowner for the district, the company is largely responsible for all costs of those municipal services that otherwise would fall under the jurisdiction of county and local governments, including the taxpayers who live within them. The arrangement essentially eased the burden from neighbouring counties and placed it on one of the largest companies in the world.

Instead of dissolving the district, the new arrangement changes the district’s name and allows Mr DeSantis to appoint all five board members to run it.

The feud between Mr DeSantis and Disney also has blown up what was otherwise close relationship between the company and the government officials it has financially supported for years.

Disney – a political heavyweight and one of the state’s largest employers – routinely dispatches lobbyists to Tallahassee and spends tens of thousands of dollars through its many entities to both Democratic and Republican officials, including the governor.

Orlando-area Democratic state Rep Anna Eskamani said in a statement that it is “absolutely wild to see a self-proclaimed capitalist like DeSantis celebrate the government takeover of a private board.”

“All this bill does is rename Reedy Creek and allow Governor DeSantis to appoint hostile conservative cronies to a new board,” she said. “Disney still maintains the same tax breaks – but their First Amendment rights have been suppressed, and it sends a message to any private individual or company that if you don’t [support] what the governor wants, then you’ll be punished.”

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