Ron DeSantis’s war on Disney World is both dumb and self-defeating
His constituents are the ones who will foot the bill for his MAGA posturing.
Here’s where things stand: As part of a broader conservative push to marginalize, penalize, and ultimately erase the LGBTQ+ community from American public life, Florida Republicans led by Gov. Ron DeSantis recently passed the atrocious “Don’t Say Gay” bill to criminalize elementary school education that recognizes that queer and transgender people exist. After initially funding a number of the GOP lawmakers behind the bill, the Walt Disney Company — under heavy pressure both within and outside of the organization — belatedly denounced the measure, prompting a deluge of QAnon-tinged allegations that the notoriously conservative media juggernaut is, somehow, a liberal front for “grooming” young children.
As if this weren’t crazy enough as it is, Florida has now punitively lashing out at one of its biggest economic powerhouses, with DeSantis on Friday signing a hastily passed bill that would strip the company of its Reedy Creek Improvement District — the nearly 40-square-mile plot of land upon which sits Walt Disney World resort, and in which Disney essentially is allowed to operate as a township unto itself, while footing its own bill. Within the district, building codes, basic municipal services like water and fire departments, roadwork, and the like are all handled by Disney internally, without the need to go through ordinary government bureaucracy.
Broader debate over allowing gargantuan corporations to essentially self-govern notwithstanding, DeSantis’s plan to sunset the RCID is not the slam dunk political maneuver Florida Republicans would have you believe.
Firstly, by dissolving the district, DeSantis is essentially creating an enormous problem — and financial liability — for the millions of Orange County and Osceola County residents who would now be on the hook for funding all the services Disney originally covered itself. As Nick Papantonis, a reporter with local Orlando ABC affiliate WFTV, calculated, Disney would no longer need to cover more than $150 million in taxes and bond debt repayments; that debt would, instead, be passed onto ordinary taxpayers in the two adjoining counties. Not the state — the counties. That means, per Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, an astronomical tax hike for residents.
“I don’t see how Orange County doesn’t raise property taxes by 20% to 25%,” Randolph told WFTV. “That’s what [the county] would probably have to do to cover this financial situation.”
So, while Disney would now need county permission to operate its various municipal services — a headache for the company, no doubt — it would have a new cache of millions of dollars annually to play around with as compensation, while everyone who lives nearby would be forced to pay out the nose to make up the difference. Not exactly the punitive, stick-it-to-the-man outcome DeSantis is likely hoping to tout.
There’s a broader issue, too, with the effort to strip the company of its special tax status: DeSantis has already won! The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is already law in his state! The issue has been resolved! Attacking Disney now is not only foolish on a financial level, but it’s also transparently vindictive and serves no real purpose other than to garner a few short-term headlines to boost his appeal among MAGA conservatives. Now that DeSantis has pulled the trigger on this cockamamie scheme, who exactly is he going to say it helps, and how? It’s purely posturing, without any intrinsic need or even a desirable outcome. The whole point is just to pretend like he’s “hurting” Disney, for his own vainglorious benefit.
DeSantis is currently riding high in the GOP, and he will almost certainly parlay his MAGAfication of Florida into a bid for the presidency sometime soon. When that day comes, the question is whether Floridians, and the rest of the country, will see through his obvious culture war nonsense for what it really is: outrage in search of a target, with no thought for anyone caught in the crossfire.