At the center of the fight between Mr. DeSantis and Disney is a special tax district that encompasses Disney World. The district effectively turned the property into its own county, giving Disney unusual control over fire protection, policing, waste management, energy generation, road maintenance, bond issuance and development planning.
Florida has hundreds of similar special tax districts. One covers The Villages, a colossal senior-living community northwest of Orlando. Another covers Daytona International Speedway and the surrounding area.
In February, lawmakers decided to allow the governor to appoint an oversight board for the Disney district in an attempt to curtail the company’s autonomy. When the appointees reported for duty, however, they discovered that the previous, Disney-controlled board had approved the development agreement and restrictive covenants, limiting the new board’s power for decades to come.
They were enraged, as was Mr. DeSantis. He responded by suggesting a variety of potential punitive actions against Disney, including reappraising the value of the resort for property tax levies, imposing tolls on roads that lead to Disney World and developing land near the entrances to the resort. “Maybe create a state park, maybe try to do more amusement parks — someone even said, like, maybe you need another state prison,” he said at an April 17 news conference.
He has also requested an investigation by Florida’s chief inspector general into Disney’s efforts to circumvent his authority.
Mr. DeSantis and his allies have repeatedly characterized their actions as simply putting Disney on “level playing ground” with other theme park operators in the state. But Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Legoland do not have oversight boards controlled by the governor. Based on the governor’s comments, the state’s other large theme parks would not be subject to additional ride safety inspections — only Disney World.
Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, has called Mr. DeSantis “anti-business” and “anti-Florida” for his actions. Mr. Iger has also signaled that future investment in Disney World could be at risk if the governor continued to use Disney as a political punching bag.
“A company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do,” Mr. Iger said at Disney’s annual shareholder meeting this month. “The governor got very angry over the position Disney took and seems like he’s decided to retaliate against us, including the naming of a new board to oversee the property, in effect to seek to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right. And that just seems really wrong to me.”