Disney has been stripped of its long-held special status as a self-governing area of Florida, after Republican Governor Ron DeSantis punished the company for refusing to back his culture war waged over “woke” LGBT policies.
The Florida House of Representatives on Thursday gave final passage to a bill that would dissolve Walt Disney World’s private government.
The swift effort by Florida Republicans has been widely seen as brazen retaliation after Disney, the Sunshine State’s largest private employer, paused political donations in the state and condemned a new education law that opponents call “Don’t Say Gay.”
The law, known as Parental Rights in Education, among many things prohibits discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity at primary school-level in Florida classrooms and limits it for older students.
“Disney and other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer,” Mr DeSantis, who will need to sign the bill, said ahead of the vote.
The move will have huge tax implications for Disney, whose series of theme parks have transformed Orlando into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and serves to further sour the relationship between the Republican-led government and a major political player in the red state. .
The speedy three-day approval of the bill was declared by state Democrats. Senator Tina Polsky called it “an enormous decision based on spite and revenge governance.”
For Mr DeSantis, the attack on Disney is his latest salvo in a war over policies involving race, gender and the coronavirus, battles that have made him one of the most popular GOP politicians in the country and a likely 2024 presidential candidate.
The 43-year-old is seen as the only major threat to former president Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination, should both decide to run.
Disney, which last year gave almost a million dollars to the Florida Republican Party, had said the legislation should “never have been passed” and vowed to help repeal it.
“We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country,” it said in a statement.
In March, Disney, which has yet to comment on the vote, said it would suspend political donations in the state and added that it would in turn support organizations working to oppose the new law.
Disney has special status, granted in 1967, to carry out certain municipal functions on its own, such as collecting taxes and providing emergency services.
It has control over 25,000 acres in the Reedy Creek Improvement District of Orlando, where it is allowed to build new projects without wading through bureaucratic channels.
Reedy Creek has about $1bn (£770m) of municipal bonds currently outstanding, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Mr DeSantis’s attempt to cancel Disney would likely mean $2bn of debt being loaded onto Orlando area taxpayers – $2,200 per family.
Influential Florida paper Miami Herald warned on Wednesday that Mr DeSantis was taking a page from disgraced former President Richard Nixon’s playbook with his attack on Disney.
“Today, it’s Disney. Tomorrow, who knows?