A Quick Look at Some of Disney’s Recent Perks from Florida State Officials

There has been a lot of rhetoric from Governor Ron DeSantis attacking The Walt Disney Company for their — albeit — delayed opposition to HB1557, the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. And yet he pivots away from addressing legitimate policy perks the company has benefited from, even downplaying his office’s involvement in creating, supporting, and consenting to some of these perks.

Here’s a breakdown of recent Disney favors from Florida state officials. I say recent because the earliest one identified here is from 1997 but there are others, including the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District in 1967. By no means is this list meant to be all-encompassing, but it provides a starting point of tax and labor policies that have been designed to benefit Disney’s bottom line.

As someone who does not raise political money from Disney and has been critical of corporate greed since my first days in public office and serves as the Ranking Member on the HouseWays & Means Committee, I welcome legitimate conversations to stop corporate giveaways and treat everyone the same. But what I don’t have time for is performative rhetoric designed to silence stakeholders from expressing opposition to bills that hurt their workers. If the Governor actually cared about an even playing field for businesses to operate on he should consider doing something about the examples in this list.

Disney favors that should be repealed/reformed:

— A law that prevents cities and counties from requiring employers provide their workers with paid sick-leave — which Disney (and Darden Restaurants) lobbied for in 2013, just before voters in Orange County approved a referendum for a local sick-time law (HB 655 in 2013). (Disney also lobbied the local government of Orange County against this measure too, see: Textgate).

— A $5 million-a-year tax break written by a Disney lobbyist that lets Disney avoid paying sales taxes on merchandise it buys at wholesale but then is fails to sell (Section 6 of HB 7123 in 2019). This was something I asked questions on when the measure showed up as an amendment on the House Floor.

— A longstanding property tax break that is supposed to save Florida farmers from being forced out of business by rising property values that Disney exploits to save $6 million a year in taxes on property that is has yet to develop.

— Hotel tax laws that force counties to spend almost all of their hotel taxes subsidizing the tourism industry (through things like tourism advertising and convention centers) rather than on vital local needs like affordable housing and transit. At a minimum, we should repeal a restriction that was added for Disney and the Orlando tourism industry to a 2018 law prevents Orange County specifically from using hotel taxes on important infrastructure investments. (I had a bill to repeal this restriction this year — HB 6075 — but Republican leaders wouldn’t let it be heard. They wouldn’t allow TDT changes to pass either).

– A carveout from Ron DeSantis’ “Big Tech censorship” bill in 2021 — which DeSantis helped Disney get. See me asking questions on this below. This entire bill should be repealed since it’s already been ruled unconstitutional by the courts too.

— Stop this last round of corporate tax refunds which are set to release $624 million back to Corporate Income Tax (CIT) payers, who are the largest and most profitable companies in the state. Only 1% of Florida companies even pay a CIT, and though we don’t know how much money Disney will receive from this $624 million these refunds have totaled just under $1.2 Billion, with Disney and companies like Disney being the only benefactors.

Capital Investment Tax Credit is a tax incentive program specifically for companies like Disney; the company needs to invest at least $25 million (that’s the lowest tier) and be a corporate taxpayer (which only 1 percent of Florida businesses are) or an insurance company. This tax break is only for big businesses like Disney and only a handful of companies have qualified for it because of how narrow it is. This program has been in the news recently since Disney is set to get a $578M Tax Incentive Deal from it via their announced move to Lake Nona.

Other examples of Disney favors:

— An exemption that Disney lobbyists got for Reedy Creek to a law that forbids cities and counties from regulating the materials that road-building contractors use in road construction (HB 905 in 2019).

— A law that Disney helped write creating special rules for items that get left behind in theme parks and hotels, which allows Disney to get rid lost-and-found items faster.

— In 2018, Disney lobbying killed a bill to crack down on human trafficking because it could have exposed hotels to civil lawsuits. A watered-down version passed in 2019 — without the hotel liability language.

A tax break passed for Disney that lets the company go back and get sales tax refunds on tickets that it has sold to itself but that it then resells to charities (Section 22 of HB 7109 in 2017).

— Disney lobbying killed a bill that would have required the company and the Reedy Creek firefighters union to abide by the decision of an independent arbitrator when contract negotiations hit a stalemate (HB 1365 in 2013).

— A law that increased the criminal penalties for theme-park ticket fraud — and rewrote the legal definition of theme park tickets to include the company’s new “MagicBand” wristbands (SB 1142 in 2013).

— $1 million budget earmark in 2012 to subsidize Major League Soccer “spring training” at Disney World.

— In 2011, the Florida Legislature banned cities and counties from regulating vacation rental homes — but they grandfathered in any already-existing local regulations. That was done specifically for Disney, which wanted to preserve local restrictions on vacation rentals in Orange County (HB 883 in 2011).

— Disney used that same legislation to increase criminal penalties for people who distribute menus for off-site pizza delivery locations in its hotels (HB 883 in 2011).

— A law that made it harder for travel agents to sue Disney World over disputes about commissions and that exempted Disney World’s contracts with travel agents from certain regulations (HB 4023 in 2011)

— A tax break that lets hotels get out of paying sales tax on food they buy and then provide “complimentary” to guests (Disney has historically used “free dining” as a major promotion to sell hotel rooms during off-peak periods). This tax break was passed around 1997 and is in 212.08(7)(jj).

Disney got an exemption to a National Rifle Association-backed bill in 2008 that forced most employers to let their workers keep guns in their cars at work. Disney got an exemption added for companies that hold certain federal explosives permits — permits it has because of its fireworks displays

– Lobbying by Disney and the tourism industry has killed bills to spend hotel taxes on affordable housing in the Florida Keys (2008), cleaning up polluted rivers and springs and preparing for rising sea levels (2020), and police, paramedic and lifeguard services in financially struggling Panhandle counties (2022).

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Anna V. Eskamani

Orlandoan, daughter of working class immigrants and UCF grad elected to serve FL HD47. Working for you, fighting for us. #OnwardWithAnna