Disney to Lose Special Florida Tax Status Amid ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Clash

Irina Baranova

The company’s clash with Florida is the latest example of how speaking out on social and political issues can put corporations in conflict with some lawmakers. Last year, Georgia politicians threatened to raise taxes on Delta Air Lines after the company spoke out against the state’s restrictive voting laws. More recently, Texas lawmakers have said they would bar Citigroup from underwriting municipal bonds in the state unless the bank revoked its policy to pay for employees to travel out of state for abortions, which are severely restricted there.

The clash between Mr. DeSantis and Disney started on March 9, when the company — under acute pressure from its employees — spoke out against the Parents Rights in Education legislation, or what opponents called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

More than 150 companies, including Marriott and American Airlines, had already signed a Human Rights Campaign letter opposing the legislation. Disney, however, had avoided taking a public stand, with its chief executive, Bob Chapek, explaining to employees in an email on March 7 that he did not want the company to become “a political football.”

Two days later, with pressure building for Disney to condemn the legislation, Mr. Chapek did so. He also announced that he had called Mr. DeSantis “to express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families.”

“The governor heard our concerns and agreed to meet with me and L.G.B.T.Q.+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss the ways to address them,” Mr. Chapek said.

That seemed to rile up Mr. DeSantis, leading to a tit for tat between his press secretary and a Disney spokesman. When Mr. DeSantis signed the bill into law on March 28, Disney renewed its criticism. “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts,” Disney said in a statement at the time, “and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”

Florida lawmakers then began threatening to revoke Disney World’s special tax district.

The Florida Legislature convened this week for a special session on congressional redistricting. Mr. DeSantis issued a proclamation on Tuesday that allowed the Republican-controlled body to also take up the elimination of special districts that were created before 1968. Almost all were set up after that date, with Disney as a major exception.

Stephen Gandel contributed reporting.

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