Bob Iger calls Florida actions against Disney World ‘anti-business’ – Lakim News

Bob Iger calls Florida actions against Disney World ‘anti-business’

New York

Disney CEO Bob Iger fought back against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ actions against his company, telling Disney shareholders on Monday that recent actions by the state were “anti-business.”

The state of Florida has taken action to strip Disney of some of the powers it had over the land that includes and surrounds Disney World. Florida’s move came after the company objected to legislation passed last year to limit discussions of LGBTQ issues in Florida schools, a bill that opponents referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Iger, asked about the fight at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting, made his most public defense to date of the company’s actions, and the most direct criticism of Florida’s actions.

“Our point on this is that any action that thwarts those efforts simply to retaliate for a position the company took sounds not just anti-business, but it sounds anti-Florida,” he said.

Disney had operated for more than 50 years with broad power to control land use in and around its theme park. It did so through a self-governing body known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, whose board members all had close ties with Disney.

But after the fight over the “don’t say gay” bill last year, Florida initially tried disband the district, only to become aware that such a move could leave local governments in central Florida with more than $1 billion in liability for bond issues. So earlier this year it passed legislation that instead gave the state the authority to appoint the board members.

Last week the new board disclosed that the land-use powers of the re-named Orange County Tourism Oversight District had been stripped away before the law passed, and given directly to Disney through an agreement with Reedy Creek. That set off a new round of criticism by state officials, including DeSantis, who has been a vocal critic of Disney’s actions.

On Monday, DeSantis ordered a state investigation into the outgoing board in charge of Disney’s special taxing district, his latest counterattack in the ongoing battle against the entertainment giant.

In a letter to Florida’s Chief Inspector General Melina Miguel, DeSantis accused the Reedy Creek Improvement District board of “collusive and self-dealing arrangements,” and unspecified ethical violations for taking actions that appeared to thwart his efforts to take over the board. Separately, DeSantis’ office said in a statement that “all legislative options are back on the table” as his administration seeks to claw back power and potentially retaliate against Disney.

“Disney is again fighting to keep its special corporate benefits and dodge Florida law,” DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said. “We are not going to let that happen. As Governor DeSantis recently said, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’”

Redfern’s comments came before Iger made his comments at the shareholders’ meeting. Following Iger’s remarks, DeSantis’ office replied, “While a company has First Amendment rights, it does not have the right to run its own government and operate outside the bounds of Florida law. The Florida Legislature and Gov. DeSantis worked to put Disney on an even playing field, and Disney got caught attempting to undermine Florida’s duly-enacted legislation in the 11th hour.”

Disney took a position against the so-called “don’t say gay” bill after some Disney employees called on it to speak out against the legislation. Iger said the Disney may “not have handled the position it took very well.”

“We love the state of Florida,” Iger said. “I think that’s reflected in not only how much we’ve invested over the last 50 years, but how much we’ve given back in jobs and community service, taxes, tourism, of course. We’ve also always appreciated what the state has done for us. It’s been a two-way street.”

But Iger said it was wrong for the state to retaliate against Disney for taking its position.

“The company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do,” Iger said. “The governor got very angry about the position that Disney took, and it seems like he’s decided to retaliate against us… in effect to seek to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right. And that just seems really wrong to me – against any company or individual, but particularly against a company that means so much to the state that you live in.”

Iger said that Disney plans to invest $17 billion in Disney World over the next 10 years, investments he said would create 13,000 new Disney jobs and thousands of other indirect jobs, attracting more people to the state and generating more taxes.

Iger got follow up questions from shareholders who questioned the company taking a postion against Florida’s legislation. One shareholder asked if “it’s wise to take political positions that satisfy a very small portion of people when our primary mission is entertainment?” Another shareholder criticized the company’s actions, saying “Disney has turned from a place of magic for children to an ideological company… increasingly promoting the woke agenda.”

Iger responded that his job of what’s best for the company includes doing what’s best for its employees, allowing them to flourish. He said there are times when it weighs in on controversial issues because of the importance to employees, and times he thinks it should not weigh in. He said that he is sensitive to criticism, including by some of the shareholders at the meeting, that the company is “creating agenda-driven content,” but he denied that is the case.

“While I know we’re never going to please everybody all the time… I want parents to be able to trust the content we’re creating for their children, and we’re committed to creating age-appropriate content for family audiences,” he said.

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