Disney CEO Bob Iger addresses lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: 'I want to set the record straight'
ORLANDO, Fla. - Bob Iger, who returned to the Walt Disney Company in November to take over the CEO post from Bob Chapek, has been working over the past six months to turn around Disney’s streaming business while simultaneously making sure that the financial might coming from its theme parks doesn’t waver.
He’s also had to contend with trying to protect Disney World’s theme park district from a takeover by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Disney sued DeSantis in late April, alleging the governor waged a "targeted campaign of government retaliation" after the company opposed a law critics call "Don’t Say Gay." Disney’s legal filing is the latest salvo in a more than year-old feud between the company and DeSantis.
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Iger took the opportunity during its quarterly earnings call on Wednesday to address the ongoing spat with DeSantis. Below is an excerpt from the earnings call that specifically relates to the Florida lawsuit:
"In the case that we filed last month, we made our position and the facts very clear, and that's really that this is about one thing and one thing only and that's retaliating against for taking a position about pending legislation. And we believe that in us taking that position, we were 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 had, I want to set the record straight on that too.
"There are about 2,000 special districts in Florida and most were established to foster investment and development, where we were one of them. It basically made it easier for us and others, by the way, to do business in Florida, and we built a business that employs, as we've said before, over 75,000 people and attracts tens of millions of people to the state.
"So, while it's easy to say that the Reedy Creek Special District that was established for us over 50 years ago benefited us, it's misleading to not also consider how much Disney benefited the State of Florida.
"And also, we're not the only company operating a special district. I mentioned 2,000. The Daytona Speedway, it has one, so do The Villages, which is a prominent retirement community, and there are countless others.
"So, if the goal is leveling the playing field, then a 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've been fighting to protect tax breaks as part of this, but in fact, we're the largest taxpayer in Central Florida, paying over $1.1 billion in state and local taxes last year alone. And we pay more taxes, specifically more real estate taxes, as a result of that special district.
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"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 on the legislation.
"So, this is plainly a matter of retaliation while the rest of Florida's special districts continue operating basically as they were.
"And, I think it's also important to state, our primary goal has always been to be able to continue to do exactly what we've been doing there, which is investing in Florida. We're proud of the tourism industry that we created and we want to continue to deliver 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've 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 were 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 going to finish – with 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?"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.