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Disney CEO questions continued Florida investment in clash with DeSantis

Published 05/10/2023, 05:43 PM
Updated 05/10/2023, 07:51 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Walt Disney World photographer holds a Pride rainbow-coloured Mickey Mouse cutout before the "Festival of Fantasy" parade at the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Florida, U.S. July 30, 2022.  REUTERS/Octavio Jones

By Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine

(Reuters) -Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Bob Iger on Wednesday accused Florida politicians of retaliating against the company and questioned the state's interest in the entertainment conglomerate's continued investment in Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) World.

Disney has accused Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his supporters of "weaponizing" the state government to punish it for exercising free-speech rights last year when the company criticized a state measure banning classroom discussion of sexuality and gender identity with younger children.

Iger said on Wednesday Disney has built a resort that employs more than 75,000 people and attracts millions of visitors each year, using a special district established more than 50 years ago to foster development in central Florida. It plans to invest $17 billion over the next decade expanding Walt Disney World.

"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," Iger said in remarks made during the company's quarterly investor call.

"So I'm going to finish ... by asking one question: Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?"

Iger's comments were unusual for the executive known for his genial, even disposition. He took issue with concerted efforts to dismantle the special district that he said enabled Disney's growth, and put it in the hands of state-appointed overseers. He said Disney has been forced to file a lawsuit in federal court to protect its business interests.

The Florida tourism oversight board responded in early May by filing its own lawsuit in state court seeking to preserve its role overseeing development in and around Disney's theme parks and void "backroom deals" favorable to the entertainment giant.

DeSantis, who is expected to declare his candidacy for U.S. president, has repeatedly attacked "woke Disney" in public remarks, and said he is leveling the playing field for a company that has enjoyed unfair advantages.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger poses on the champagne-colored red carpet during the Oscars arrivals at the 95th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 12, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Iger disputed that, noting some 2,000 special districts exist in Florida to foster development and that "we were one of them."

A spokesperson for DeSantis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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