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|Eat more chicken|
If Gov. Bobby Jindal had his way, we all would subsist on a diet of chicken, chicken and more chicken.
At least that was the message Jindal delivered in a visit to Ouachita Parish earlier this week where he took part in an announcement that a new employer would set up shop in Monroe soon.
It's probably a good thing the governor is peddling the chicken message these days since Louisiana taxpayers have been obligated to peel off some $50 million so Foster Farms of California can buy and upgrade a chicken processing plant in Union Parish. It's an $80 million deal. The seller is Pilgrim's Pride, a chicken company that recently sought bankruptcy protection.
As part of its bankruptcy plan, Pilgrim's Pride announced a few weeks ago it would close its chicken processing plant in Farmerville. At stake were some 1,300 jobs at the plant alone. Another 300 or so jobs would have been lost among people who raise chickens, which they sell to the plant. Let's not forget about the suppliers that do business with the plant as well as with the people who raise and sell chickens. Financial institutions in the region would have been impacted, too.
In all, the loss of the Pilgrim's Pride plant would have resulted in an $80 million-$100 million economic blow to the economy in northern Louisiana. That's huge, especially in light of the job losses the region has incurred in recent years with State Farm Insurance closing its regional offices here while Guide Corp. and International Paper called it quits in northeast Louisiana as well.
But along came Jindal and his chief of staff Timmy Teepell, who made it clear from the get-go that the state would do what was needed to help Foster Farms buy the Pilgrim's Pride plant. State Sen. Mike Walsworth and state economic guru Stephen Moret were involved in the mix, too, though Moret kept a low profile throughout the negotiations in which a deal was reached for Pilgrim's Pride to flip its Farmerville operation to Foster Farms. A bankruptcy judge must sign off on it. If it's a good deal for the creditors, though, a bankruptcy judge will be hard pressed not to go along with it.
Still, Jindal must convince the Legislature that it is in the state's best interest to fork over $40 million toward the purchase of the chicken plant and put up some $10 million to improve it. The governor most likely will not have a difficult time selling the deal to lawmakers, though legislators probably will seize the opportunity to extract some concessions from Jindal. Those concessions most likely will entail the state financing a host of pet projects in various legislative districts across Louisiana. The concessions won't be blatantly obvious, though, for the state doesn't have the money to play Santa Claus this year thanks to a downturn in tax revenues amid a weak economy.
Convincing the Legislature to put up the money to save more than a 1,000 jobs in northern Louisiana isn't Jindal's biggest problem.
Instead, the Jindal administration may have set a dangerous precedent by agreeing to turn cold hard cash for a private-sector transaction.
What's the state going to do if Boysie Bollinger at Bollinger Shipyards comes calling for cash money to save or create jobs at its operations in the New Orleans area?
What's the state going to do if Gary Chouest at Edison Chouest Offshore says he needs state funding to upgrade his business in Galliano?
What's the state going to do if Roy Martin at the Roy Martin timber company decides he wants some taxpayer money to ramp up his business in central Louisiana?
Those are big ifs, but they're all possible as well.
Let's just hope the state doesn't have to answer the call.
In the meantime, it's in the best interest of every taxpayer in Louisiana to eat more chicken.
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