Legal analyst and the host of YouTube channel Legal Mindset, Andrew Esquire, recently claimed that The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger’s recent comments during the company’s Q2 2023 Earnings Results webcast have massive implications that include “civil law, criminal penalties, billions of dollars at stake, and frankly trillions of dollars for Walt Disney in the future.”
During The Walt Disney Company’s Q2 2023 Earnings Results webcast, Bob Iger was questioned about The Walt Disney Company’s ongoing legal battle with the state of Florida over the former Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID).
Iger said, “First of all, I think the case that we filed last month made our position and the facts very clear. And that’s really that this is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation. And we believe that in us taking that position we are merely exercising our right to free speech.”
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“Also, this is not about special privileges, or a level playing field, or Disney in any way using it’s leverage around the state of Florida, but since there’s been a lot said about special districts and the arrangement that we had I want to set the record straight on that too,” Iger relayed.
He continued, “There are about 2,000 special districts in Florida and most were established to foster investment and development, and we were one of them. It basically made it easier for us and others, by the way, to do business in Florida. And we built a business that employs, as we’ve said before, over 75,000 people and attracts tens of millions of people to the state.
“So while it’s easy to say that the Reedy Creek Special District that was established for us over 50 years ago benefited us, it’s misleading to not also consider how much Disney benefited the state of Florida,” he argued.
“And also, we’re not the only company operating a special district,” he stated. “I mentioned 2,000. The Daytona Speedway has one. The Villages, which is a prominent retirement community, and there are countless others. So if the goal here is leveling the playing field then a uniform application of the law or government oversight of special districts needs to occur or be applied to all special districts.”
“There’s also a false narrative that we’ve been fighting to protect tax breaks as part of this,” Iger asserted. “But in fact we’re the largest tax payer in central Florida paying over $1.1 billion in state and local taxes last year alone. And we pay more taxes, specifically more real estate taxes, as a result of that special district.”
“And we all know there was no concerted effort to do anything to dismantle what was once called Reedy Creek Special District until we spoke out on the legislation,” he opined. “So this is plainly a matter of retaliation while the rest of the Florida special districts continue operating, basically, as they were.”
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“I think it is also important for us to say that our primary goal has always been to continue to do exactly what we’ve been doing there, which is investing in Florida. We’re proud of the tourism industry that we created. And we want to continue deliver the best possible experience for guests going forward,” Iger continued.
“We never wanted and we certainly never expected to be in the position to defend our business interests in federal court, particularly after having such a terrific relationship with the state as we’ve had for more than 50 years,” he said.
“And as I mentioned on our shareholder call we have a a huge opportunity to continue to invest in Florida,” he recalled. “I noted that our plans were to invest $17 billion in the next 10 years, which is what the state should want us to do. 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. And we also provide them with great benefits and free education.”
Iger concluded, “So I’m going to finish what is obviously kind of a long answer by asking one question: Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?”
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Reacting to Iger’s comments specifically about his claim about being retaliated against Esquire said, “Disney was never punished for that. RCID is not Disney. Once again, this is what he keeps doing. Bob Iger and he’s done it once on a previous call and now he’s doing it again. He’s saying, ‘They punished us.’ What did they do to you, Disney? They actually did nothing to Disney directly. Nothing.”
“Okay, they changed the district, but the district isn’t Disney. You’ve had to certify that,” Esquire said. “So either you’re confessing to securities fraud and saying that the entire time you were Disney so there’s tax fraud, securities fraud, a bunch of Florida crimes that have been broken. But this is what you are saying here. If you’re saying you’re RCID, well, yeah, there’s going to be issues there. But this is not the worst and this is not where he digs himself in deeper.”
Next, Esquire addressed Iger’s comments about special districts saying that Iger was using a mainstream media tactic to deflect from the actual issue at hand.
Specifically referring to Iger’s comments about the other 2,000 special districts, he said, “That is correct, but that it’s also extraordinarily misleading. He’s using a mainstream media tactic here. Yeah, there’s 2,000 others, but guess what? None of them had the powers of Reedy Creek. Not a single one of them.”
He explained, “Most of them are like Celebration, they’re a community of development districts. And here’s the other thing: most of them are controlled by residents. Actual real people not landowners. Landowner controlled districts are very rare and when they are they’re usually controlled by either multiple parties, or guess what? State appointed boards.”
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He then reacted to Iger’s comments about the Daytona Speedway and The Villages saying, “That right there is the major mess up. He screwed up by mentioning those two districts. 1. The Daytona district is not just one company, it’s a basket of stakeholders, which have a stakehold not just around the Daytona Speedway, but around the general area. It’s not just all controlled by a single entity with a single purpose. There’s multiple businesses that benefit from that, not just the Speedway.”
“Second of all with The Villages, that is probably the worst thing for him to mention,” he declared. “Now, to be very clear there are several districts that encompass The Villages, many of them are controlled by residents and they’re controlled through regular elections like your city or town. But there was one at the center called The Village Center CDD and it was controlled by one business.”
He elaborated, “And the IRS actually found that they were not a true government and actually required them to refund their bonds to exchange their tax-free bonds for taxable bonds. This was a massive, massive, massive issue in central Florida and it resulted in two decades of litigation.”
“So by citing The Villages, he says, ‘Oh yeah, this corrupt example that ended up being called out and exposed for their lives in The Villages, yeah, we’re that.’ That’s possibly the worst example. That’s like saying you want to be like Stalinist Russia or some sort of failed state. … It’s not good. It doesn’t work out. Horrible example, horrible comparison. The Villages literally littered with issues legally. So by citing that you’re actually putting yourself in a camp with them that you do not want to be put in to,” Esquire asserted.
Esquire would conclude his video reacting to Iger calling for uniform regulation of special districts, “He does not understand the law. There is a uniform special district law. It exists. This shows, this proves that Disney does not know this area of law. They have no experience in it. Their lawyers are not talking to them and they are giving, frankly, Iger bad advice.”
“Special districts are largely uniform they either follow chapter 189 or 190 of the Florida statutes. They typically turn over to landowners and they have a lot of the same elements. Reedy Creek was the only with these superpowers, with these ultra super strong powers that pretty much gave it immunity. … So this is a bad comparison for Iger. Clearly, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and clearly, his attorneys in Disney are still blowing smoke in the wrong direction. And this is going to dig them deeper and deeper potentially towards criminal and civil liability,” he concluded.
What do you make of his analysis of Iger’s comments?
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