Bob Iger asks if Florida wants Disney to 'invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?'

May 10, 2023 in "The Walt Disney Company"

Posted: Wednesday May 10, 2023 5:09pm ET by WDWMAGIC Staff

During this afternoon's quarterly earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Iger was asked how investors should think about the risk in both near-term and long-term business for Disney during the ongoing dispute with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

In a passionate response, a clearly frustrated Iger went into more detail about Disney's fight against Florida and gave more insight into special districts, tax, Disney's contributions to the state, and his view that Disney is being punished for speaking out against DeSantis' political policies.

Here is a transcript of his comments.

Regarding Florida I have got a few things I want to say about that, Phil. First of all I think the case that we filed last month made our position and the facts very clear and that is really that this is about one thing and one thing only and that is retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation. And we believe that in us taking that position we are merely exercising our right to free speech. Also this is not about special privileges or a level playing field or Disney in any way using its leverage around the state of Florida. But since there's been a lot said about special districts and the arrangement that we have I want to set the record straight on that too. There are about 2000 special districts in Florida.Most are established to foster investor development where we were one of them. He basically made it easier for us and others, by the way to do business in Florida and we built the business that employs as we said before, over 75,000 people, and attracts tens of millions of people to the state. So while it is easy to say that the Reedy Creek special district that was established for us over 50 years ago benefited us, it is misleading to not also consider how much Disney benefited the state of Florida. And we are also, we are not the only company operating a special district. I mentioned 2000 for the Daytona Speedway, it has one. So do the villages which is a permanent retirement community and there are countless others. So the goal here is, if the goal is leveling the playing field in the uniform application of the law or government oversight of special districts needs to occur or be applied to all special districts. There's also a false narrative that we have been fighting to protect tax breaks as part of this. But in fact we are the largest taxpayer in Central Florida paying over 1.1 billion in state and local taxes last year alone. We pay more taxes specifically more real estate taxes as a result of that special district. And we all know there was no concerted effort to do anything to dismantle what was once called Reedy Creek special district until we spoke out in the legislation. So this is plainly a matter of retaliation while the rest of the Florida special districts continue operating basically as they were. I think it's also important for us to say our primary goal has always been to be able to continue to do exactly what we have been doing there, which is investing in Florida. We are proud of the tourism industry that we created and we want to continue delivering the best possible experience for guests going forward. We never wanted and we certainly never expected to be in the position of having to defend our business interests in federal court, particularly having such a terrific relationship with the state as we have had for more than 50 years. And as I mentioned on our shareholder call we have a huge opportunity to continue to invest in Florida.I noted that our plans are to invest 17 billion over the next 10 years, which is what the state should want us to do. We operate responsibly. We pay our fair share of taxes. We employ thousands of people and by the way we pay them above the minimum wage substantially above the minimum wage dictated by the state of Florida. We also provide them with great benefits and free education so I'm gonna finish what is obviously kind of a long answer by asking one question. Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes or not?

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Stripes2 days ago

What? The new development agreement is based on the existing 2020 Comprehensive plan. There’s just a blurb in there that the district and Disney will amend the agreement in order to give Disney even more development rights once the new comprehensive plan is effective.

mkt2 days ago

They are not. And the politization of day to day is affecting morale across the other civil servants. I personally know of two ex-RCID/current-CFTOD employees that are taking an early retirement and starting the same job with a different private or public sector enterprise in the area.

Stripes3 days ago

. After the new district took over at the beginning of this mess, Vahle put out a statement that Disney sought to work with the new board on very friendly terms. Disney’s goal was never to continue this fight. Disney promised to do things they were already going to do. It also doesn’t matter because even if Disney doesn’t do what they promised the district can’t prove otherwise until the development agreement expires anyway. The board can’t do much of anything to antagonize Disney anymore. Disney was content to have the new board takeover with guardrails in place at the beginning of this mess. The Florida GOP are once again on Disney’s payroll. There is no risk so long as that continues.

flynnibus3 days ago

Yes I know - which is why I said Disney would be the one to extend the olive branch... the act to initiate and signal a wish to reconcile... Disney knows full well what the union did and the sides they chose... but Disney also knows the union isn't going anywhere... and they know the union has egg on it's face. When your opposition is knocked down and deflated... being the one to help them back up is often a strong way to reconcile and move beyond the past transgressions.

flynnibus3 days ago

Ehh.. the lawsuits were already done. And of course Disney only sued after the state attacked the developer agreement... they can't sue for a contract being violated before it was :) Disney made a pre-emptive strike at the district level with the developer agreement... they fired the first shots.. just not in court. No, Disney still has to deal with the district, and whomever the state decides to sit there.. and all the 'how can they make life worse for disney' points are all still the same. Nothing that happened since RCID was torn down touched anything in the comprehensive plan that was in place and the only portion of the new developer agreement that really matters is it locks in new land management minimums for the property as a whole. Disney basically promised 8 billion dollars and capitulating in return to ensure they get to define the new TBD comprehensive plan like the old days... with their interests at the forefront. Everything else is still as it was with the new District in power... the difference now is right now you have District management that is cooperating with Disney. It's just an example of how far things can swing based on the District's board... they can be completely antagonistic, or they can be completely submissive... all within the same structure. Disney gets to lock up the master plan for the property - but everything else is still at the whim of the Governor because he can swap people to do whatever he pleases. And her job is only as secure as the Governor in office's latest itch. The anti-Disney stance of the last year plus was not because a rogue guy was hired as the district administrator... let's not forget that. Those people were just yes-men who were replaced just as fast as they were put in place when the agenda changed. That risk hasn't changed.

lazyboy97o3 days ago

The firefighters in particular did decide to get involved and oppose Disney.

flynnibus3 days ago

I know they weren't truly employees - I think after 1200 pages we wouldn't be challenging that slang I used. Their benefits here were because Disney gave it to them.. and Disney was hands on in the arrangement.. as well as hands on with the District's management. They were not true employees - but they were in effect, serving at the behest of Disney and Disney calling the shots in this matter. Now that we are past the obvious... Yes, the tax liability has to be addressed since the cat is out of the bag so to speak... but Disney can just gross people up to cover the expense too. It's just a matter of what they want to pay for... and we've already heard how big of a deal it was to those who were getting the benefit. All of this is moving around the elephant in the room.. which is you have hundreds of rank and file employees who weren't part of this anti-disney campaign... but got dragged along with it... and now that their two-faced leaders have done the 180 to tow the new business mandate... I wonder if they will address the employees who lost through this.

Stripes3 days ago

Bear in mind, Disney only sued once the district and the state came after the development agreement. Now that a development agreement is back in place (one that is very favorable to Disney) there’s no need to continue the lawsuits as Disney sees it. Bad PR in this age of incredible polarization with little benefit to the business. Disney can once again build whatever they want without government interference. The new administrator has a great relationship with Disney and worked with DeSantis in the past to carve out exceptions in legislation so that new laws wouldn’t apply to Disney. She has basically done their bidding for years.

Stripes3 days ago

They were never Disney employees. Disney may allow the district employees to purchase the old passes again with their stipend. But unless the district changes how they calculate the stipend amount, it will never be the same perk.

flynnibus3 days ago

Well, according to the district MANAGEMENT it was - who are no longer there. And the new management has already showed they are willing to to deals that contradict prior discord and agendas and the two parties are collaborating behind closed doors. (which ironically - that's the biggest thing the GOP HASN'T fixed about the prior district... because now they are part of the gang). Which is why I poised the question... will Disney turn back to its former employees and try to fight to make it happen?

Stripes3 days ago

According to the district it was an inappropriate perk to begin with. So I don’t think the firefighters will be getting their Disney perks back. They’re SOL.

flynnibus3 days ago

I wonder if Disney will somehow extend an olive branch to the Firefighters and get them their perks back... or if the district will quietly pivot back on the topic for everyone.

flynnibus3 days ago

This a place for objective reasoning. If you have lines to tow... you're gonna get called out for the non-sense it is.

flynnibus3 days ago

Maybe - but you still haven't listed anything they gained or are better off from where they started though... nor addressed the other things they have lost. Name one thing that is better now for Disney.