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Disney v. DeSantis: Don’t Mess With the Mouse

I have the impression that Disney executives and attorneys have spent the past several days giggling.

Yesterday CNN reported that Disney has been telling its bondholders that the special district created in 1967 will not be dissolved, so don’t worry about it. What Disney knew, and Gov. DeSantis et al. apparently did not, is that the 1967 agreement creating the special district could not be ended until the distrinct’s bond debt was paid off. And it’s going to take roughly $1 billion to make that happen.

Now DeSantis is bravely promising that Disney will pay the $1 billion. Yeah, right after Mexico pays for the wall.

In an Orlando town hall with Fox News, DeSantis said Disney will be paying their own bond debt.

“It just simply ends with them being treated the same as every other company in Florida,” he said. “They’re going to follow laws. They’re not going to have their own government. They’re going to pay their debts, pay their taxes.”

DeSantis told Fox News host Laura Ingram that there will be more legislation to address questions raised about tax implications of unraveling Disney’s self-governing status. …

… “There’s going to be additional legislative action,” said DeSantis. “We’ve contemplated that. We know what we’re going to do, so stay tuned; that’ll all be apparent.”

No, they don’t know what they’re going to do. There’s a contract. Disney has lived up to its part of the contract. There’s no honest court in the U.S. that would let DeSantis shred that contract. Maybe DeSantis is counting on some Trump judges to help him out.

Here’s a good article at Bloomberg that explains the bond issue in detail. I’ll just quote a little bit.

In authorizing Reedy Creek to issue bonds, the Florida legislature included a remarkable statement—included in Reedy Creek’s bond offerings—regarding its own promise to bondholders: “The State of Florida pledges to the holders of any bonds issued under this Act that it will not limit or alter the rights of the District to own, acquire, construct, reconstruct, improve, maintain, operate or furnish the projects or to levy and collect the taxes, assessments, rentals, rates, fees, tolls, fares and other charges provided for herein … until all such bonds together with interest thereon, and all costs and expenses in connection with any action or proceeding by or on behalf of such holders, are fully met and discharged.”

The bill dissolving Reedy Creek doesn’t say what should happen to these debts, but another statute does: By default, the local general-purpose government—the county—assumes the district’s debt, along with all of its assets. This means that theoretically, Orange and Osceola counties will inherit upward of $1 billion in bond debt.

And then the article goes into more detail that explains why even transfering the bond debt to Orange and Osceola counties, as burdensome as that would be, is probably not possible without violating a whole lot of other laws plus the U.S. and Florida constitutions. It’s a contract, dude. Even if the state of Florida tried to write a check to pay off the debt, they’d still run into a problem. One of the bonds cannot be redeemed until 2029.

The author of the Bloomberg piece, a Florida lawyer, concludes:

Florida simply cannot promise to prospective bondholders that it won’t interfere with Reedy Creek, and then dissolve Reedy Creek. If Reedy Creek is ever dissolved, it would be a monumental and complicated enterprise even on a years-long timeline. The district has a nine-figure annual budget for expenditures, and even ignoring its various debts, it has a plethora of other contracts that somehow would have to be assigned to and divided between Orange and Osceola counties. However, the dissolution will have to wait until all of its bonds are paid in full.

And if DeSantis thinks the Florida legislature can just pass some more laws and make these issues go away, perhaps they’ve been snorting a bit too much pixie dust.

See also Paul Waldman, The new Republican statism:

… everywhere you look, Republicans are trying to redirect power upward, to consolidate and centralize authority in their hands.

This is an outright rejection of the way conservatism in America has described itself for decades. Conservatives have always said they are philosophically opposed to the centralization of power: They want “local control” of schools, they love unfettered free markets, they wax rhapsodic about the decentralized wonder of federalism and the dangers of the government’s heavy hand.

At least that’s what they used to say. But you aren’t hearing that kind of talk much lately from Republicans. What they’re advocating now is nothing short of a new statism.

Which is why it would be a mistake to see these conflicts as just about the culture war. The new right-wing thirst for authoritarianism crosses policy boundaries; it’s no accident that this comes even as many right-wing intellectual types are seeing a model in Hungarian dictator Viktor Orban’s use of culture-war fearmongering to justify the consolidation of economic and political power. While they praise his anti-gay efforts, it’s also his authoritarianism that thrills them.

This isn’t really a surprise; Republican rhetoric about “getting government off your back” never applied to abortion, for example, or a lot of other things Republicans wanted to restrict or ban. They just wanted “freedom” from policies they didn’t agree with. Right-wing notions of “liberty” aren’t really about liberty but their own privilege do what they want and strip the same privilege from anyone who disagrees. And you see that big time in Ron DeSantis’s recent move, that IMO can’t end any other way but making him look stupid.

7 thoughts on “Disney v. DeSantis: Don’t Mess With the Mouse

  1. Ron DeSantis:  Another amoral Harvard/Yale, Double-Ivy, feckin'-eedjit!

    Does no one in either Ivy ever cover "Ethics?!?"


  2. DeSantis is smarter than Trump (a low hurdle, I agree) but every aspect says knee-jerk reactionary with no consideration of consequences. That the legislature rubber-stamped the decree without the most cursory research or debate speaks volumes.

    I read today that Desantis' press secretary was quoted as saying the "Don't Say Gay" bill was inspired by legislation in Hungary (Victor Orban) that went after gays. This is years after Putin make it an issue in Russia. Criminalizing alternate sexual lifestyles seems central to expanding authoritarianism. (It has been done by vilifying Jews or some other minority group. Antisemitism does not do well in the US – being a nation of immigrants makes persecution of a minority (by complexion or national origin) problematic. Trump had to tap dance around the Muslim ban. A lot of religions across a wide spectrum of ethnicities are really hung up on sexual relationships not based on one man over one woman. It's not explicitly protected in the Constitution so DeSantis is banking on sexual freedom (and criminalization) becoming a state's rights decision by this USSC.

    An interview with the Lt. Governor (and I paraphrase) suggested that the year-long delay in implementation would give Disney time to reconsider and suck up to DeSantis. What I heard was, "We don't expect to go through with the full punishment because Disney will express remorse." DeSantis wants Disney to get back in line, supporting his bid for president. (And I think that's what is it about.) 

    DeSantis (IMO) expected that Disney might take it to court. DeSantis is posturing for the masses who won't try to comprehend the legal issues. And you can bet that Fox is not covering the legal nuances of anything so mundane as a contract co-signed by the state of Florida. So the Trumpsters will never hear the truth.

    The chicken-and-the-egg problem as I understand it is that the two local counties own the bond debt if Reedy Creek is dissolved, BUT, Reedy Creek can't be dissolved unless the bonds are paid off with interest and including all legal fees. And I may be wrong but… the law that says the two local counties are on the hook is based on a clause  (and I paraphrase) "if Reedy Creek is insolvent or ceases to exist."  So why would the local counties be in a rush to make this happen on the timetable that was set in Tallahassee?  Reedy Creek IS solvent and the bid by Florida to dissolve Reedy Creek is invalid.

    BTW, the central part of the state isn't a DeSantis stronghold – I'd bet DeSantis was amused by raising the tax burden in a part of the state that won't vote for him anyhow. It's stupid politics – there's money in Orlando that hasn't tried to take sides. If the governor is trying to stick it to the blue-tinged part of Florida, he may wake up the money there – in opposition to him.

    My concern is that Disney (and especially their lawyers) want this to go away. They don't want to be the central characters in this drama. On the other hand, Disney isn't used to being treated like they are of a dark complexion and got uppity. Like them or hate them, Disney is a global media empire. Disney existed before DeSantis was born and the idea that this petty tyrant can saddle and ride Mickey Mouse is probably distasteful. So how directly will Disney confront  DeSantis?

    • An interview with the Lt. Governor (and I paraphrase) suggested that the year-long delay in implementation would give Disney time to reconsider and suck up to DeSantis. What I heard was, "We don't expect to go through with the full punishment because Disney will express remorse." DeSantis wants Disney to get back in line, supporting his bid for president. (And I think that's what is it  about.) 

      How likely is that, though? I don't pay a lot of attention to Disney and I don't live anywhere near a Disney attraction, so I don't have a sense of what's going on with Disney. I'm reading that the communications and government relations executive just got canned . Business Insider is opinng that Disney CEO Bob Chapek mishandled the "don't say gay" thing, but not by expressing opposition. Chapek was too slow to respond and didn't oppose the bill strongly enough, pissing off everybody. I don't see that Disney has much incentive to kowtow to DeSantis, as the law is clearly on Disney's side regarading the special district. DeSantis can throw all the temper tantrums he wants. 

      • Bob Chapek expressed his opposition VERY late with an apology. It's important to read his words:

        "I want to be crystal clear: I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities. And, we are committed to creating a more inclusive company — and world.”

        Then he closed the Disney checkbook to political donations.  THAT may be what got DeSantis' attention because Disney has previously given over $100,000 to a PAC for Desantis.  I do not think the donations had anything to do with ideology – it's how business is done. You bribe the incumbent of either party quite legally to keep government off your back. If Disney can close their wallet, so can other corporations. It adds up to a lot of money. DeSantis can live without Disney's money but if it caught on, the small $ donations of Trumpsters can't put him in the White House. 

        At one point, I thought DeSantis got the result by barking at Disney, even if the courts strike down the law. If DeSantis does not bring down Disney, this will affect corporate fundraising. Associating with the toxic DeSantis fascism will be too risky for corporations which usually grease the political wheels to stay off the radar of government regulators.  This is a war DeSantis should not have started but he has to see through.


  3. DeathSentence got his performative tantrum, the talibangelicals got their culture war Two Minutes' Hate and both now get to whine about being victims of librul lawyers. Actually going through with the dissolution is not required.

  4. Republicans wanted to restrict or ban. They just wanted “freedom” from policies they didn’t agree with.

    The only definition of Republican or Conservative that works in today's world is that which self-appointed authorities, wrapped in either word, says it is.  It is almost never something they like but something they hate, like low-flush toilets.  Democrats need to work that message even harder.  It is a good point.  They only use terms like liberty and freedom when convenient, with total disregard for the liberty and freedom of others who might be for other things, like water conservation.  You would think that conservatives would favor conservation, but by and large they favor waste.  Republican used to be for free market jobs and the corporations that create them, but now declare war on one that is the premier name in family entertainment.  Why?  They objected to their hate crusade.  Hate crusader now has become the de facto working definition of Republican or Conservative, as they have abandoned all other ideal and values. 

    It is an identity conservatives or republicans do not want, but they have wasted all other values and ideals that previously defined them.  It is all they have left, and it is not right.  





  5. "Right-wing notions of “liberty” aren’t really about liberty but their own privilege do what they want and strip the same privilege from anyone who disagrees."

    A side point on this comment: the words "liberty," "freedom", and "privilege" were synonyms in European and English law for 8 centuries, well into the 19th century. Republicans simply want to return to the good old days when some people (them, of course) can "do what they want" because of who they are. That's the essence of 'privilege', and in a stratified and unequal society, most if not all 'liberty' comes from privilege. 

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