While I’m typically much more interested in the Florida Man headlines involving meth gators or bath salt zombies, there’s quite the moment happening (yet again) in Florida between a bunch of rich and powerful people. And as is generally the case, it looks like the not-so-rich and -powerful are going to be the ones who suffer from it.
As we’ve talked about on here before, Florida has recently passed a bill that many like to refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The details of this bill are unimportant for this discussion here, but what is important is that although The Walt Disney Company was initially quiet over their thoughts on the bill, they did finally come out with a statement claiming how they would do everything in their power to get the bill repealed.
And, of course, that meant that those who pushed the bill through, took this as a direct attack and saw it as a business using its money to impact legislation (because, of course, that never normally happens), and decided to strike back.
The method for striking back is that the State of Florida is now working to repeal a much older bill, one which has allowed The Walt Disney Company to operate its own government within the confines of the State of Florida.
Quick history lesson here with at least some of the facts correct: When Walt Disney was deciding where to put his new theme park, he made a whole bunch of deals with the State of Florida. Florida, realizing the boon that a Disney theme park could entail for their state, was rather willing to do whatever it took to get Disney there. So, since Walt at this point owned the land equivalent of the island of Manhattan, and they wanted to move quickly on the development of this land, an agreement was reached to create what is called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. In short, this would allow Disney to basically govern itself in things like building inspections and emergency services (to really gloss over the full details of this whole thing).
This is huge. Like, for everything I’m going to say in the rest of the post which might not make this seem like quite as big of a deal as it is, I want to highlight just exactly how huge of a thing this is. While I can appreciate how The Walt Disney Corporation has used this land they own in many responsible ways, such as creating their 11,500 acre Wilderness Preserve, the very idea that a corporation could operate as their own government entity is, at the very least, a little bit questionable. Scary is probably a better word.
So, I actually can see why the State of Florida might be interested in dissolving this deal. I’m not a huge fan of corporations being able to hide completely from oversight, even if in many ways its in the corporation’s best interests to keep their guests safe. Heck, the very fact that they manage their own police should cause many people to wonder if there’s a bunch of stuff going on behind the scenes that isn’t exactly kosher.
But here’s the thing, folks. This battle between rich and powerful people isn’t as much about this bill from 1960s as it is a way for one rich and powerful person to flip the other one the bird after being flipped the bird in the first place. It’s a battle of egos. And because of that being the focus, there isn’t much thought going into how this dissolution could be best enacted, but all about how quickly it can be done.
Here are a few of the issues I’ve seen discussed with how the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District could play out. First, since Disney, or more specifically the Reedy Creek Improvement District, provides its own emergency services, if the district suddenly no longer exists, those services have to be provided by local government. Immediately you are looking for a fairly severe increase in the overhead required by the existing local governments to provide services for an organization that has been providing them for themselves for the last 50 years. While this may allow for some job growth (although, let’s be honest, it would actually simply move jobs from one employer to another at best), it also would increase the taxes for the people currently in those areas. Sure, there may be an opportunity to gather more taxes from The Walt Disney Company, but the reality is that the people in the area are going to have to pay for these increased needs.
But that’s not even the biggest cost. Because it looks like The Reedy Creek Improvement District has about a billion (yes, billion with a b) dollars worth of debt in bonds. There’s a pretty strong belief by even the supporters of the dissolution of the district, that that billion would come due immediately upon dissolution of the district. A billion. While there may be some way for the State of Florida to push the burden of this on Disney, the reality is that Disney’s lawyers are sure as heck going to lean on the law and how this is not actually their debt, but the debt of a government entity that the state is dissolving, and, you guessed it, this debt is going right back to the taxpayers.
But, there’s even more to consider. Because Disney has actually been making moves in recent months to move a not-insignificant portion of their employee base to a new campus they’ve been working on in Florida. The numbers I’ve seen are as big as 20,000 jobs they would be bringing to the State of Florida. One can only assume that the next big middle finger in this battle of the rich would mean those jobs would be not sent to Florida.
Now, obviously, one of the bigger questions is, will this hurt Disney. Sure, there will definitely be impacts. However, none of these are things that The Walt Disney Company doesn’t have to deal with for any of its other theme parks across the globe. Will there be greater costs for operating their theme park in Florida? Maybe? I don’t know. But it doesn’t really matter, because Disney’s shown it’s really good at passing any of those costs on to its customers. The true impact to Disney here would purely be one of ego. But the people actually impacted would be those who live in Florida or are patrons of Disney’s products.
Here’s the thing, folks, The Walt Disney Company is one of the largest corporations in the world today. Something like this isn’t integral to their operations at all. If anything, it was probably only most useful to the corporation during the time they were initially building the park. They still file building permits and still require inspections on all their equipment. They still provide emergency services. And, while it may be a big part of the State of Florida’s income, it’s only a small portion of Disney’s portfolio.
This pissing match will only hurt the little guys.
But at the same time, I want to reiterate I think it’s probably about time that we look toward getting rid of Disney’s special powers in Florida. I just simply think there might be a need to consider how its done a little bit more than just ripping off a bandaid and dealing with whatever struggles come next.