Gov. Bobby Jindal's bold move to save more than 1,000 jobs at a north Louisiana chicken processing plant may soon come in for some legislative plucking. The governor proposes using $50 million to help Foster Farms, a California company, buy and upgrade the Farmerville plant of Pilgrim's Pride, which went bankrupt recently. In addition to the direct layoffs, the shutdown also would devastate several hundred chicken farmers in the area.
Good intentions aside, the governor's bailout has some downsides. For starters, competing chicken processors are squawking about the state putting up more than 60 percent of the $80 million buyout when they get no scratch from the state.
Politically, New Orleans area lawmakers are wondering how many of the plant's workers actually live in Louisiana, as opposed to nearby Arkansas. Those same lawmakers also wonder why Jindal has done little if anything to help New Orleans Cold Storage move its facility from the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet to the riverfront, particularly when most of that company's workers are Louisiana residents — and its No. 1 frozen product is chicken.
Meanwhile, there is growing concern that Team Jindal effectively wrote a check that it can't cash — at least, not yet. The governor wants to tap the state's $400 million economic development "mega-fund" to close the deal, but the fund is not legally authorized to finance this kind of transaction. Lawmakers will have to approve major changes in the fund to make Jindal's plan legal.
Even some north Louisiana conservatives are wondering if the bailout will set a dangerous precedent. "What's the state going to do if Boysie Bollinger at Bollinger Shipyards comes calling for cash money to save or create jobs at his operations in the New Orleans area?" writes Sam Hanna Jr., editor of The Ouachita Citizen, adding similar queries about Edison Chouest Offshore in Galliano and Roy O. Martin timber company in central Louisiana. "Those are big ifs, but they're all possible as well," Hanna concludes. "Let's just hope the state doesn't have to answer the call." — Clancy DuBos
Jump-Starting CNG Cars
So you've heard of biodiesel and corn ethanol, and maybe you've even seen one of those mini-electric cars on the roads. Well, get ready for one more alternative player on Louisiana's highways and byways: the compressed natural gas vehicle. It's an exciting technology, especially when you consider natural gas is 50 percent cheaper than gasoline on an equivalent energy basis. So far, Germany has led the push globally and already hosts hundreds of filling stations. In the U.S., federal tax credits recently became available for purchasing CNG vehicles, but few people take advantage of them. Still, state lawmakers don't want to miss out on what could be the next big green thing.
Rep. Nick Gautreaux and Sen. Jane Smith are making a bipartisan push to put a variety of tax incentives and programs in a bill to be filed after lawmakers convene on April 27. While the measure would have its environmental selling points, it can also be viewed as an industry booster. "With potentially the largest natural gas field in the United States, Louisiana is poised to support an energy policy that enhances our national security and promotes a cleaner environment in our country and state," says Gautreaux, D-Abbeville. The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association as well as the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association are already on board — a sure sign that the oil lobby will have a hand in the drafting process. Smith, R-Bossier City, says there will be no mandates in the legislation, but the proposal could repeal some existing limits on tax credits for clean-burning fuels used in a vehicle. It could also increase Louisiana's current income tax credit for purchasing a new vehicle or converting an existing vehicle to CNG standards. As for treading new ground, Louisiana isn't quite there, but it would be among the few states that have taken serious stances on CNG. — Jeremy Alford
www.politicsla.com on eBay
After trying unsuccessfully to sell his business through conventional means, Baton Rouge entrepreneur Charlie Davis pointed, clicked and listed his upstart company on eBay. It's a logical choice, given that Davis' product is a political Web site — www.politicsla.com. He has operated the site since early 2001. During election seasons, it draws nearly 10,000 separate visitors a day, most looking for gossip and digital conversation through the site's popular forum. During the off-season, like now, it's down to fewer than 1,000 different daily visitors, Davis says, although there are more than 1,400 registered members. Bidding for the site was expected to continue through last Friday evening, after The Gambit's deadline, but the opening offer was $2,500. If nothing else, Davis, a Republican who manages political campaigns and conservative outreach, is hopeful. "I have no idea how much it will go for," he says. "But I plan to put all of the money into a new nonprofit to support school choice called ChooseEducation.com." Davis also owns Gatorworks, a local Web design company, and FanTheFire.com, which is a hub for university-related clothing and accessories, including the silk LSU ties and vests that served as a foundation for Davis' foray into online retail. — Alford
Aid to Farmers
It's tough being a Louisiana farmer these days, and not just because of the weather or boll weevils. Federal and state aid to farmers seems to be disappearing faster than flats of Ponchatoula strawberries at a roadside market. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, has included $16 billion in agriculture cuts in his current budget proposal. Meanwhile, Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, is looking at $15 million in reductions at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. In Washington, Sens. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, and David Vitter, a Republican, have joined forces to oppose Obama's proposal to eliminate direct payments to farms with sales of more than $500,000 a year. They add that the president's proposed budget would make it more difficult for farmers to obtain federal crop insurance. "This not only threatens the domestic supply of food and fiber that Americans depend upon, it further undermines our rural communities and a U.S. economy already in crisis," Landrieu and Vitter wrote in a letter to Senate budget officials. Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, the Ag Department faces $17 million in expired hurricane assistance and other one-time funding — in addition to the $15 million in state cuts — according to The Advocate in Baton Rouge. The paper reports that Jindal's proposed cuts could eliminate some 230 positions, but lawmakers may restore the cuts. A full copy of the letter written by Vitter and Landrieu is available at http://landrieu.senate.gov/news/09.03.23_Lincoln_Ag_Letter.pdf. — Alford