- [Announcer] This is a production of WEDU-PBS, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota.
- Coming up right now on WEDU, the Disney-DeSantis war grows, Trump and DeSantis allies battle it out with competing ads, we'll take a look at who benefits from the tax cuts being considered in Tallahassee, some Earth Day tips for recycling, and the plan to use those giant phosphate waste stacks for road building.
All this and more next on "Florida This Week".
(dramatic music) Welcome back.
Joining us on the panel this week, Susan Glickman is the Director of the Florida Clinicians for Climate Action.
Jason Garcia is the publisher of "Seeking Rents" newsletter and podcast.
Mary Ellen Klas is the Capital Bureau Chief for the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.
Nice to see all of you.
Thank you for doing the program.
Well, the struggle between Governor Ron DeSantis and the Walt Disney Corporation escalated this week with new legislation introduced in Tallahassee designed to give greater state control over the property containing the theme park near Orlando.
The governor also suggested a variety of other punitive actions against Disney, which is the state's largest private employer, taxpayer and tourist attraction.
Two weeks ago, DeSantis floated the idea of raising taxes on Disney hotels and imposing tolls on the roads that lead to its theme parks.
He's also requested a criminal investigation into Disney's efforts to circumvent the state takeover of the board that controls the area containing the theme parks.
And this week, the governor suggested developing land near the resort entrances.
- Oh, but come to think of it, now people are like, what should we do with this land?
And so, you know, it's like, okay, people have said maybe have another, maybe create a state park, maybe try to do more amusement parks.
Someone even said maybe you need another state prison.
I mean, I just think the possibilities are endless.
- Mary Ellen, I've got to start at that last statement from Governor DeSantis.
Was he serious about a state prison or an amusement park or a state park near Disney World?
- You know, I think the governor's pretty good at getting people riled up, and I think this is a big suggestion.
The board, the newly constituted oversight board that is all DeSantis appointees, didn't say anything about building a prison, but they did yesterday meet, or on Wednesday met, and they had a lot of, made an effort to touch a lot of the issues.
And their goal here is to continue to kind of attract attention.
But what they are really limited and confined to doing is dealing with the infrastructure of this special taxing district, and that is pretty much what they talked about.
They said, oh, we might be raising taxes to do more additional projects on that property, you know, increasing transit, maybe building some affordable housing.
Literally after the announcement that they were gonna do more affordable housing, Disney came out with an announcement saying, oh, by the way, we're building affordable housing on the land.
We've got a lot of things going on here.
It really continues to just be a fight where the governor is, I think, trying to continue to show that he's got the high road, or that he's winning.
And in the end, it's going to just be a legal fight that may be protracted for years.
- Mary Ellen, when the governor goes out on those book speech swings that he's been doing around the country, he always talks about being on offense.
And I wonder, from the perspective of the state legislature and his allies in the legislature, and the perspective of the new board that replaces the old Disney Reedy Creek Board, are they taking a pretty offensive stand trying to assume greater control in a way that Disney can't fight back?
- Actually I don't think so.
You know, when you think about what did this come out of?
This came out of the fact the Disney voiced some opposition to a policy, and that policy had to do with sexual orientation and gender identity instruction in schools.
The governor was upset that they took a position on that, and wanted to retaliate.
His first proposal was to dismantle the district.
They realized they could not do that.
And I think their goal was to try and influence content, influence their entertainment programming.
But they cannot do that.
That's a violation of First Amendment rights.
And if they continue to use this district to try and influence that, it's not gonna work.
So in some ways, their hands are really tied with how far they can go.
And raising taxes, Disney already pays, I think it's about three times higher rate in property taxes than the surrounding Osceola and Orange counties.
And it's because they pay for their own services.
- So what does Disney say about this?
Is Disney saying anything about the latest moves by this new board that is trying to control the property?
Does it say anything about the latest moves in the legislature?
- Disney says it's following the law.
I think it's interesting to see that there are some loopholes that the governor's attorneys have found, and that could be an issue.
For example, there are other people that own, there is one small slice of property owners, and Jason may be more familiar with this than I am about it, but that anybody in the district needed to be notified on paper in the mail of any changes to the development agreement.
That is something that the governor-controlled board is trying to invalidate, and they're saying that the way they can invalidate it is by showing that this was not properly noticed.
Now, I'm not sure how far that's gonna go, but Disney's kind of played it cautiously and has not said a lot at this point.
But I do think they have a lot of legal ammunition in a way, as the governor's office does, to try to battle this out.
- And this has become very expensive for the state, to battle this in the courts, right?
- Well, it's not there yet.
- But they've hired some high-priced law firms, or law firm.
- Yes, I think three or four law firms at this point.
- Jason, how is this viewed in Orlando where you are?
What's the take for folks that live right there in the shadow of Disney?
- Yeah, I think it is increasingly becoming the subject of ridicule around here, and I think that illustrates a couple of dangers that the governor is increasingly flirting with here.
And one thing just to add to sort of what Mary Ellen said, all of this began, like she said, after Disney spoke up about the Parental Rights in Education bill and the Don't Say Gay bill.
But also after Disney announced it would stop making campaign contributions, and it had been, up until that point, a big campaign contributor to Ron DeSantis.
So I don't think you can sort of extricate that dynamic from all of this as well.
But there are two places that I think that are really getting treacherous here.
One is, you know, we opened with that bit about the governor kind of, half in jest, suggesting a prison, right, building a prison at Disney.
Except that has been the big national takeaway.
That's all anybody nationally is hearing about this, and it's increasingly looking like this isn't some sort of serious attempt at corporate accountability, it's just some sort of petty feud that's distracting from other stuff, especially when you look at Biblical flooding in Fort Lauderdale and that sort of thing.
And the other thing that is really risky here is they are getting increasingly far out onto treacherous ice when it comes to sort of isolating and retaliating against Disney.
When this began as sort of dissolving this district that Disney had, well it was clearly a retaliation against Disney.
Disney was also like, there is no other taxpayer in Florida that has a district like the Reedy Creek District was, right?
So you could sort of make a public policy argument that we were undoing bad policy.
But there are increasingly now targeting Disney in ways that is unique to them.
So I'll give you one example of that.
One of the things the governor has talked about is subjecting Disney to state ride safety regulation.
Right now, Disney and the other big theme parks, Disney, Universal, Sea World, Busch Gardens and Legoland are all exempt from state ride safety regulations.
Ron DeSantis wants to remove that, but for Disney alone, and that is gonna be really hard to legally defend, that isn't just some sort of unconstitutional retaliation against a company that spoke out in a way you didn't like and turned off the campaign contribution spigot.
- All right.
Well, moving on to our next topic, a super PAC backing Florida Governor DeSantis is attacking former President Trump with a new TV ad out this week.
- [Announcer] Donald Trump is being attacked by a Democrat prosecutor in New York, so why is he spending millions attacking the Republican governor of Florida?
Trump's stealing pages from the Biden-Pelosi playbook, repeating lies about social security.
Here's the truth from Governor Ron DeSantis.
- You know, we're not gonna mess with social security as Republicans.
- [Announcer] What did Trump say?
- Have entitlements ever been on your plan?
- At some point, they will be.
We will take a look at that.
- [Announcer] Trump should fight Democrats, not lie about Governor DeSantis.
What happened to Donald Trump?
Never Back Down Inc. is responsible for the contents of this ad.
- And that ad was in response to this one, put out by a super PAC supporting the former President.
- [Announcer] Think you know Ron DeSantis?
In Congress, DeSantis voted three separate times to cut social security.
That's right, three times over three years.
Worse, DeSantis voted to cut Medicare two times.
DeSantis even voted to raise the retirement age to 70.
The more you learn about DeSantis, the more you see he doesn't share our values.
He's just not ready to be President.
Make America Great Again Inc. is responsible for the content of this advertising.
- Mary Ellen, those are really two hard-hitting ads.
One of the battles that's going on is trying to get members of the Florida Congressional Delegation to endorse you, and it looks like former President Trump is winning that one.
- Yeah, this week we saw some interesting moves in that regard.
It now appears as though there are about 10 people in the Republican delegation in Florida that are endorsing Donald Trump, and only one, Laurel Lee, who formerly was the Secretary of State appointed by Ron DeSantis has endorsed DeSantis.
That fight is kind of, I think, the beginning of where we are seeing this go.
Now, endorsements really don't matter that much, but it's a beginning signal, and I think what this is saying is that there are Republicans who are less worried about going against Ron DeSantis than they are against Donald Trump, and that is especially true in Florida.
You've got to remember, Ron DeSantis was a Congressman with a lot of these Republicans.
He was their peer.
You'd think that he would have a close enough relationship that he could get their endorsement, and the opposite is true.
I mean, we even look at somebody like Brian Mast, who was considered one of Ron DeSantis' closest friends, and he has endorsed Trump.
So I think this is kind of a telling dynamic right now, and a signal that Donald Trump, at least his campaign is kind of out-flanking the governor, and the governor has not announced a campaign yet.
I mean, we've got these two ads which were both done by super PACs, so they can spend money and go after each other, but Ron DeSantis has waited.
There is a lot of people who are supporters of his that are anxious about the fact that perhaps he may have waited too long.
On the other hand, it's still so early, and I think there's a lot more to come.
This is just the beginning of the firefight.
We're gonna be watching this for months.
- Susan, according to a nationwide survey conducted this month, about 28% of Americans had a very unfavorable view of Florida Governor DeSantis, while 18% of Americans hold a very favorable view.
19% had no opinion.
DeSantis has been out there a lot on TV, especially on Fox.
What do you think that survey says?
- I think what you're hearing, and you've heard both Mary Ellen and Jason talking about some of these political issues that are being debated in the capital.
That's not what concerns Floridians.
Floridians are concerned about their high electric bills, their rent, and their insurance rates which are through the roof.
So electric bills and insurance rates, that's really in the governor's wheelhouse.
But yet he's worried about attacking Disney World because they stopped giving him campaign contributions.
So that's not what Floridians are concerned about.
And we're here, we're looking at Earth Day this weekend, and Florida's in trouble.
Our environment is continually just being assaulted.
Governor DeSantis ran on water quality issues, that was sort of the height of it, and all the water advocates in the state would tell you that they haven't done the policies needed to clean off, for instance, the pollution from agriculture and from all of us that are turning our rivers into water quality problems.
We have blue-green algae, we have red tide exploding.
So it's very important that we protect the environment because there is an upper limit to what we can take in sea rise, and we're gonna talk more about that, but the Governor's handed out a couple billion dollars to adapt to sea rise, to adapt to climate change, but we haven't done anything at all, in fact, we've gone the opposite direction to really turn that faucet off.
- Okay, well let's talk about money.
The State House and Senate have new proposed bills that would cut taxes for corporations and for consumers.
Both bills would permanently eliminate sales taxes on diapers and adult incontinence products, also baby and toddler supplies like cribs, strollers, breast pumps and baby wipes, and oral hygiene products, including toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss and mouthwash.
The bills would also exempt energy efficient household appliances from sales tax for a second year in a row, and they would expand property tax breaks for disabled veterans and for surviving spouses of military members killed in combat, or law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
In addition, both chamber's bills have tax breaks for businesses.
Jason, you've been covering this for your website, "Seeking Rents", so who are the big winners in these proposed two billion dollars in tax cuts?
- Yeah, I will say sort of if you compare this to sort of the first three years that Governor DeSantis was in office, the tax cuts they passed in those first few years were almost exclusively for the state's biggest businesses, the largest corporations in the world.
Like we're literally talking about the top 1% of business got more than 50% of all the tax savings that were passed in those first three years.
And so the packages we saw last year and then this year are much better, much better.
There are far more tax breaks oriented around actually everyday consumers and stuff that would save them money.
You mentioned some in the voice segment, like permanently exempting diapers and adult incontinence products from sales tax.
Now, that said, they have still, they seem incapable of larding these up with a few special interest tax breaks.
So for instance, in there there are tax breaks that have been written by lobbyists for Linar, the giant home-building company.
There are tax breaks in there written by lobbyists for ADT, the home security company.
There's a tax break in there written by lobbyists for Chesapeake Utilities Corporation, a giant energy company.
So it still has a lot of that.
The other thing that's really interesting about this is they are choosing to do some business tax cuts at the expense of some consumer tax cuts right now.
So for instance, going into session, the Governor had proposed one year exemptions on household supplies like paper towels and toilet paper, everyday things that we all buy, and on children's toys.
Both of those would be pretty good for consumers, especially if you did it for a full year.
Neither of those made it into the plans the House and the Senate proposed.
Instead, they suggested, or the House has suggested a giant tax break for businesses by cutting the sales tax businesses pay when they rent property.
Well, a major phosphate company wants to re-use those giant gypsum stacks that dominate parts of Hillsborough and Polk counties.
The Mosaic Company is backing bills in the legislature that would allow the use of the mildly radioactive fertilizer waste, which emits radon gas, in road construction.
While it's used for that purpose in Canada, Europe and other countries, it has been banned in the U.S. for such purposes by the EPA.
And Susan, I'm sorry to say, we just have 30 seconds, but is this a good idea?
- This is a very bad idea, and particularly as we see more and more rains like we saw in Fort Lauderdale.
That's gonna deteriorate the roads.
So people are gonna be exposed to this, or if you exercise and you bike and you're on these roads.
So this is radioactive waste, and it's, you know, another sort of let's give a big giant corporation a break so that they can make more money, whatever.
But we're putting people's health at risk.
- Okay, well this weekend marks Earth Day, a time to raise awareness about protecting the environment, and to mark the day, we took our WEDU cameras to the massive WM recycling operation, which processes the city of Tampa's recycling.
(fun music) The plant is located east of Ybor City, and one of the first things you'll notice on a tour is that for some people, their recycling container is used as just another garbage bin.
These consumers place many things that don't belong in their recycling container, such as plastic bags, old clothes, suitcases, wood from construction projects, garden hoses, used needles, electronic equipment, and even food.
Every week, an enormous amount, 346 tons of Tampa's material are dropped off at the recycling facility.
Some of it is sorted by hand, but most, about 90%, is sorted by a series of machines.
When an item that does not belong, such as a plastic bag or a hose, is caught in those machines, the line stops completely, and workers are sent in to unclog the processors.
Items which are rejected from the recycling center usually wind up in a landfill or are burned in the city of Tampa's waste to energy facility.
Both incinerators and landfills have their own environmental problems, so the goal is to recycle as much as possible.
- Everybody wants to know why, and why is because one, it's the right thing to do, it's waste diversion, which is really incredibly helpful.
We have a city of almost 400,000 people who create up to four pounds of trash every single day.
So if we can take some of that trash that is recyclable, that we accept in our curbside program, and put it into the recycling, then we're creating waste diversion, which helps with energy savings.
You know, not wasting those resources that those materials were pulled from the Earth, and just helps keep a better clean world for local and, you know, global.
- [Rob] Are we running out of landfill space?
- Whether you're dealing with landfill or waste centers, there is a specific amount of space or capacity that can be handled.
So at some point, you do hit capacity.
Now, we're not completely there yet in the city of Tampa, but every area is heading that way, as less space is available, more residents are moving in.
So we always have to look at what waste diversion opportunities we can do.
- What's the weirdest thing that you've seen in the recycling bin?
- Literally anything that you can think of, we have seen it in recycling.
I would say one of the funniest things is a kitchen sink.
So when people say everything but the kitchen sink, we say everything and the kitchen sink.
- Does the city make money off recycled materials?
- Maybe back in the golden era of recycling, it used to be profitable for cities.
And it is no longer profitable.
It actually is an extensive cost.
But the city continues to run this program despite the cost because it is, again, the right thing to do for the environment and the community.
- But there are some things that are valuable, such as?
- For sure.
The most valuable for recycling commodities would be aluminum cans.
Those are infinitely recyclable.
They can be recycled forever.
Milk jugs are gonna be great to recycle.
Plastic bottles are great to recycle.
And then cardboard.
Those are some of your top items that you want to make sure that those never make it in the trash, they always make it in your recycling.
- What's the number one item that people should not put in their recycling?
- So the top contaminants are gonna be plastic bags.
Now, that means bagged recycling.
So if I was to put any of my recycling in this bag, we don't know what's in here, we don't know if it's trash, if it's dangerous, so bagged recycling does not get sorted, it gets treated as trash because of the dangers that could be in here.
So never bag your recycling.
And that means basically any plastic bags.
So you're gonna have all sorts of different plastic bags.
People really recognize grocery bags as not able to be put in your curbside recycling cart, but that also means any bag that's out there, even a produce bag.
Any plastic bag should not go in your recycling.
- There's a term in recycling called tanglers, and these gum up your works.
These actually stop you from recycling.
What's a tangler?
- So a tangler is anything that can wrap around your wrist.
So if it can wrap around your wrist, it's going to wrap around the machinery that helps sort all of this stuff out, and tanglers are something that cause this facility here to shut down twice a day, to get those out.
And they have to cut them out by hand, so it's quite the process.
And we lose production time, so less recyclables get sorted.
So another one that we see is food waste or food residue, and that can be something like you have a peanut butter jar that still has a bunch of peanut butter in it.
If it's glass, when that glass breaks, that peanut butter is going to go on cardboard, on paper, on everything, and it's going to contaminate it.
So just making sure that any material that you're putting in is clean enough, when you tip it over, there's no food left in it, there's no residue.
A simple rinse and shake usually does the job.
- Does that include my pizza box that has extra cheese that spilled out?
- Yeah, so cardboard that's dirty or soiled or greasy cannot be recycled because of those elements in the city of Tampa's program, so if it has that food residue that you can't get out, then that should go in your trash.
So another one that we see quite frequently that people think is recyclable are foam type of items.
So these are not recyclable.
They are very hard to recycle material, and currently for a single stream curbside recycling, there's no market for them, so these should not go in your bin.
- That's one of the keys, reduce and reuse before you recycle.
- Yes, exactly.
Recycling is great, it's needed, it is a great waste diversion technique.
It's one of the most basic forms of waste diversion, it's been around for quite some time, but we always like to remind people, reduce, reuse, recycle.
So if you're looking at it that way, recycling's third place, and we want everybody to strive for first place.
So reducing is really the best option that you could go for.
- What about batteries and electronics?
- Batteries and electronics can be very dangerous.
So if you have a lithium ion battery, if you have a rechargeable battery, those can cause fires, and they do cause fires frequently.
We've seen them in our trucks, so they put our drivers at risk.
We've also had them at this WM facility, so they put the employees at risk and the whole operation at risk.
Alkaline batteries are okay to go in the trash, so your double A's, those type of batteries are safe for the trash.
It's the lithium ion and the rechargeable, and the button batteries, those should not be in your trash or your recycling.
- Some communities have different rules.
To find your area's dos and don'ts, just go to your city or county website to look for guidance on recycling in your community.
Thanks to our guests, Susan Glickman, Jason Garcia and Mary Ellen Klas.
And thank you for joining us.
Send us your comments at FTW@wedu.org.
You can view this and past shows online at wedu.org, or on the PBS app.
And "Florida This Week" is now available as a podcast.
From all of us here at WEDU, have a great weekend, and happy Earth Day.
(dramatic music) - [Announcer] "Florida This Week" is a production of WEDU, who is solely responsible for its content.