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Disney’s Legal Status

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
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By:  – nationalreview.com – April , 2022

Yesterday, Governor Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation instructing a special session of the Florida legislature to review whether Walt Disney World’s 50-year-old “independent special district” status should be rescinded now that the Walt Disney Company has had the temerity to annoy the Republican Party. Disney’s status, DeSantis wrote, should now be subject to a “review” meant to “ensure” that it is “appropriately serving the public interest,” as required by the Constitution of Florida.

This escalation represents an ugly and ill-conceived mistake, a blemish on DeSantis’s otherwise mostly excellent gubernatorial record.

Those who have defended the move argue that sticking it to Disney in this matter demonstrates that the Republican Party is willing to “fight” and will thus represent a victory for conservatism. But this is silly. Admirably, Governor DeSantis has already fought Disney, and he has already won. The policy about which Disney chose stupidly to complain is now Florida law. It passed both houses of the state legislature; it was signed by DeSantis, who had been correctly defiant in the face of Disney’s gripes; and it enjoys the support of broad majorities of Floridians. There is no need for the Republican Party of Florida to salt the earth here; it has prevailed in every particular.

Presented with this objection, advocates of further retribution tend to switch gears and contend that Walt Disney World is not “entitled” to the setup it enjoys in Florida, that no law is guaranteed to “last forever,” and that Disney’s special status, granted before 1968, was probably due for “reconsideration” anyway. In a vacuum, these arguments are all defensible, but in context, they represent an extreme form of gaslighting. Until about a month ago, Walt Disney World’s legal status was not even a blip on the GOP’s radar. No Republicans were calling for it to be revisited, nor did they have any reason to. Yes, Disney isn’t “entitled” to its arrangement. But Disney wasn’t “entitled” to it in 2012, 2002, 1992, 1982, or 1972, either, and yet, amazingly enough, the legislature showed zero interest in rescinding it when given the opportunity on those occasions. That it’s doing so now is ugly. That it’s pretending that it’s doing so out of a concern for “good government” is grotesque.

It’s also bad policy. Walt Disney World’s setup in Florida is, indeed, unusual, but it doesn’t quite make sense to call it a “carve-out.” Properly understood, a “carve-out” is a rule that is applied differently to entities of a similar or identical nature: The Walt Disney Company, for example, enjoys a brazen carve-out in Florida’s tech-regulation bill: an exemption for Disney+ that was not granted to Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Max. By contrast, the rules that apply to Walt Disney World could be better described as “tailored,” for, despite the insinuations of many Florida Republicans, Walt Disney World’s accommodation is unique not in its type but only in its particulars. As it happens, Florida has 1,844 special districts, of which 1,288 are, like Walt Disney World, “independent.” The Villages — where Governor DeSantis made his announcement about the review of Walt Disney World’s status — is “independent,” as are Orlando International Airport and the Daytona International Speedway. Clearly, Walt Disney World is a weird place: It is the size of San Francisco, it straddles two counties (Orange and Osceola), and, by necessity, it relies on an infrastructure cache that has been custom-built to its peculiar needs. To claim that the laws that enable this oddity to work represent a “special break” is akin to claiming that the laws that facilitate special installations such as Cape Canaveral or the World Trade Center are “special breaks”: true, in the narrowest sense, but false when examined more closely.

If, as they claim to be, Florida’s elected Republicans are worried that “independent special district” status has been selectively granted over the years, then they ought to be looking to extend it more fairly, not to grant it even more selectively.

At one level, Disney’s critics understand that, at this point, Disney’s setup in Florida is a Chesterton’s Fence — sure, anyone involved can knock it over if they want to, but to do so for no good reason would be stupid in the extreme — and yet, inexplicably, they are proceeding anyway. “What’s Disney gonna do?” they ask, correctly. “Pack up and move to Illinois?” No, Disney is not going to do that, because Disney has invested massively in Florida, and because, as a result, its path is dependent on that initial decision. But, as with the other massive investments in the state, that dependency works both ways. Fifty years after its founding, Walt Disney World is deeply rooted in Florida’s soil, as a result of agreements the Florida legislature made with it in good faith. To poison that soil over a temporary spat would be absurd.

A good question to ask in politics is, “And then what?” And so it is here. I have no doubt that, if they really want to, Governor DeSantis and the Republican majorities in the state legislature can revoke Walt Disney World’s special status, and I have no doubt that, in the short term, they might profit politically from doing so. But then what? Does the curriculum bill become even more the law? Of course not. In all likelihood, all that happens is Florida’s zoning policy gets a little worse, the legislature elects to tie itself up for years in extremely complex and costly litigation meant to untangle the state from Disney, and other large businesses note for the record that Florida’s heretofore-admirable commitment to solving big and complicated problems should henceforth be regarded with an asterisk.

That’s not “fighting.” It’s a tantrum.

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Source: Ron DeSantis’s Misguided Attack on Disney’s Legal Status | National Review