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With Bob Iger Back, Disney and Florida Are Playing Nice Again

Walt Disney World is about to get its independence (and its tax benefits) back following fallout from the Bob Chapek-"Don't Say Gay" debacle.

Disney annual passholders get a peek at the coronavirus-inspired changes inside the Magic Kingdom on July 9, 2020. (Gabrielle Russon/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Disney annual passholders get a peek at the coronavirus-inspired changes inside the Magic Kingdom on July 9, 2020.Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Gabrielle Russon/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Did Disney and Florida just become best friends again? On Friday, the Financial Times reported that Florida lawmakers are working on a compromise to allow The Walt Disney Company to continue operating a private government for its parks in the Sunshine State. The magic is back and so are the tax benefits — along with Bob Iger.

The news comes seven months after Florida reversed its longstanding policy of allowing Disney to tax itself to cover the cost of water power, roads, and fire services for Walt Disney World. The policy, which was established in 1967 with the Reedy Creek Improvement Act, came under threat after a public spat between the state’s governor Ron DeSantis and the now-former Disney CEO Bob Chapek over the state’s controversial Parental Rights in Education Law, colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which forbids discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.

Chapek, who drew widespread criticism for initially staying silent on “Don’t Say Gay” (even after it was revealed Disney donated to sponsors of the legislation), eventually reversed course and publicly opposed the law, prompting DeSantis and Florida lawmakers to threaten to repeal the Reedy Creek act. This proposed act proved unpopular with Florida citizens and law experts, who noted that removing Disney World’s right to act as its own county government could cause residents of the two counties the resort falls under — Orange and Osceola — to face dramatically increased taxes.

According to the Financial Time’s reporting, the removal of Chapek from the CEO position, and the return of longtime Disney head Iger, opened the door for Republican lawmakers in the state to begin compromising with the company again. Randy Fine, a Florida House of Representatives member who sponsored a bill that would dissolve any independent special district created in the state prior to November 1968 (i.e. the year after the Randy Creek Act), said Chapek’s departure allowed for an agreement to be “sorted out.” Fine has a history of supporting anti-LGBTQ legislation: last year, he voted in favor of a house bill that barred transgender girls from playing on female sports teams at public schools.

“It’s easier to shift policy when you don’t have to defend the old policy,” Fine told the Financial Times. “Chapek screwed up, but Bob Iger doesn’t have to own that screw-up.”

Although the terms of the compromise haven’t yet been settled, possible resolutions reported by FT include Florida barring Disney from building a nuclear power plant or an airport on its land — two rights from the initial 1967 agreement the company almost certainly will never use. Florida Democratic state senator Linda Stewart also told the publication that the matter might be resolved by having DeSantis appoint members to the Reedy Creek board.

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