Gov. Ron DeSantis escalates Disney clash with threat of new taxes, tolls

The comments are the latest in the battle between the governor and one of Florida’s largest employers..
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the State Attorney's Office 13th Judicial Circuit in Tampa on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the State Attorney's Office 13th Judicial Circuit in Tampa on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published April 7|Updated April 7

Gov. Ron DeSantis again raised the temperature in his yearlong fight with the Walt Disney Co., saying that the corporation’s latest legal maneuvers will not only be invalidated by state lawmakers, but that it will face additional penalties for its actions.

“The Legislature is going to void anything Disney did on the way out the door,” he said during an appearance Thursday at the conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan.

The new board members DeSantis picked to take the reins of Disney’s special tax district discovered last month that the company had quietly stripped them of most of their authority before they came into office. On Thursday, DeSantis promised he’d get the last word.

“But now that Disney has reopened this issue, we’re not just going to void the development agreement they tried to do, we’re going to look at things like taxes on the hotels,” he added. “We’re going to look at things like tolls on the roads. We’re going to look at things like developing some of the property that the district owns. ... Ultimately, we’re going to win on every single issue involving Disney.”

The comments are the latest chapter in DeSantis’ high-profile clash with one of Florida’s largest employers, which his 2022 reelection campaign used for fundraising appeals. More recently, it’s become a centerpiece of his populist political messaging as he tours the country as part of the ramp-up of an expected presidential campaign.

The conflict began in the final stages of the 2022 legislative session, when Disney publicly denounced the Parental Right in Education law, which critics call Don’t Say Gay, and then announced it would pause its political contributions in the state. The law prohibits classroom instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and potentially restricts such instruction for older kids.

When asked at a Friday news conference in Ocala about Thursday evening’s comments, DeSantis was more ambiguous.

He reiterated that “all options are on the table” and said legislative action will come that will “potentially arm the board with the ability to make sure that this is run appropriately.”

House Speaker Paul Renner has also hinted that a Disney-related bill could be coming, but nothing has yet been filed.

DeSantis has already ordered an investigation into what he said is “self-dealing” and other ethical violations.

Disney has defended the outgoing board’s actions. CEO Bob Iger said DeSantis’ punishment of the company is “anti-business and anti-Florida,” and that Disney has a right to freedom of speech.