Mickey goes to law school: Disney sues DeSantis & state officials over their 50-year+ special tax deal reductions

walt disney and mickey statue Photo Source: Ko Be/Wirestock - stock.adobe.com

Following the multi-layered tax lawsuits against Disney by the state of Florida, a new lawsuit was filed by the largest tourist attraction in the world. Disney accuses DeSantis of “a targeted campaign of government retaliation” and is headed to court.

The tax deal in dispute, the "Theme Park Property Tax Reduction," had allowed Disney to save millions of dollars in property for over five decades. However, earlier this year, the Florida legislature voted to eliminate the tax break for any theme park that had received it for more than 20 years, which includes the groundbreaking resort company, Disney.

Disney filed the lawsuit on Wednesday, claiming Florida Governor Rick DeSantis and numerous state officials unleashed political retaliation against the company. Disney claims that the governor and other state officials attacked Disney, via their long-time legal tax loopholes, because the company opposed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The sunshine state’s controversial law prohibits teachers and others in school from discussing LGBTQ+ issues. The restrictive law allows private citizens to sue the school, teachers, and students if they speak about LGBTQ+ issues, or potentially if they so much as mention the existence of any LGBTQ+ people, even a student’s parents, in the midst of “classroom instruction.”

Disney’s lawsuit was launched immediately after Governor DeSantis created a new Florida board that will govern Disney’s massive Orlando-based resorts. The board nullified longtime Florida contracts with Disney that were created in the launch of the giant sunshine state resort.

By nulling the state contracts Disney legally was approved for when the company broke ground in Florida, the resort stands to lose much of its independence and tax benefits.

In court documents, Disney alleges Governor DeSantis and some state officials infringed on the company’s constitutional rights and that they illegally voided those longstanding contracts.

The complaint states, “A targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech — now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”

Disney is clear in its suit that the state of Florida has greatly benefited from the resort’s location in the sunshine state, and that tourists from around the globe flock to the home of Micky Mouse every day of the year. Currently, Disney has an average annual attendance of over 60 million visitors, with Walt Disney World in Florida the world's most visited theme park globally.

The complaint says, “For more than half a century, Disney has made an immeasurable impact on Florida and its economy, establishing Central Florida as a top global tourist destination and attracting tens of millions of visitors to the State each year. People and families from every corner of the globe have traveled to Walt Disney World because of the unrivaled guest experience it provides and the deep emotional connection that generations of fans have with Disney’s timeless stories and characters.”

The lawsuit accuses DeSantis and some state officials of threatening billions of dollars, plus thousands of jobs.

“At the Governor’s bidding, the State’s oversight board has purported to “void” publicly noticed and duly agreed development contracts, which had laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs,” states the lawsuit. The complaint outlined the law in the starkest terms and quoted numerous statements of Governor DeSantis regarding additional punitive measres he could take. “This government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional. But the Governor and his allies have made clear they do not care and will not stop. The Governor recently declared that his team would not only “void the development agreement”—just as they did today—but also planned “to look at things like taxes on the hotels,” “tolls on the roads,” “developing some of the property that the district owns” with “more amusement parks,” and even putting a “state prison” next to Walt Disney World. “Who knows? I just think the possibilities are endless,” he said.”

DeSantis, who is expected to throw his hat in the ring for a run for president in 2024, has criticized Disney as a “woke corporation,” saying, "When you have companies that have made a fortune off being family-friendly and catering to families and young kids, they should understand that parents of young kids do not want this injected into their kid’s kindergarten classroom.”

The governor also proposed legislation to mandate more frequent, additional inspections at Disney theme park rides, as well as the famous monorail used to connect Disney hotel guests to theme parks.

Diane Lilli
Diane Lilli
Diane Lilli is an award winning Journalist, Editor and Author for over 18 years for New Jersey news outlets (print and online) including launching the first daily digital newspaper in 2005, Jersey Tomato Press. She has been published in numerous newspapers; journals; magazines and literary publications nationally and is the winner of the Shirley Chisholm Journalism Award.
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