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Double-dipper Odom preparing to face music?

It’ll be interesting to see how Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom reacts to the doings of a legislative committee he can’t control. The last person Odom probably wants to tangle with in the Legislature now is Sen. James David Cain, who gave some thought to opposing Odom for the job in 2003 and now probably wishes the election occurred in midterm.

Cain, who heads the Senate Insurance Committee, no doubt has plenty of motivation to thoroughly vet Odom’s third career as a contractor (his second being controlling state Democratic Party functions). Even if Odom has built up allies in the Legislature (and has the Senate Agriculture Committee and its chairman Mike Smith in his back pocket), even if he is a separately elected executive officer, even if about $69 million of dedicated monies and fees come under his control with another $10 million or so from the federal government, the fact is with a budget of around $109 million he needs the Legislature’s $30 million from the general fund more than it needs him.

(Actually, there may not be a worse bunch for Odom to rumble with than this committee. It’s full of Republicans from urban areas and the remainder are black Democrats, most significantly the guy who got the rawest deal out of the “Unity Ballot” fiasco. They probably won’t have a lot of sympathy for Odom’s shenanigans.)

The committee hearings on the matter of insurance risk to the state began today (and given this information won’t conclude today) should detail what a shady enterprise Odom runs. Not only are highly trained and educated employees being utilized in a manner that wastes their talents in other areas (and probably at higher salaries than even construction workers get), but begs the question if they have so much time not needed to being devoted to pesticide matters, veterinarian duties, legal things etc., that the department must be overstaffed in the first place.

(That being the case, Gov. Kathleen Blanco had the chance to excise some of these jobs out of the Odom’s budget, as she did hundreds of others across the state bureaucracy. While in her budget she did request a reduction of 12 classified employees, she left the number of unclassified ones, those actually moonlighting on Odom’s orders as construction workers, unchanged. She did, however, indicate she wanted to slice away around $15 million out of his dedicated funds – the bulk of which was from the notorious venture capital account Boll Weevil Eradication Fund; well, let’s use the executive budget’s phrasing:

Eliminates duplicate funding for bond payment of $12M, which is included in the Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority funding and the Boll Weevil Eradication Fund -- which also has funding authority of $12M for the bond payment. In FY'06 $24M was appropriated to pay $12M in bond payments.

So maybe she is catching on and least trying to rein in Odom. Apparently, he’s been double-dipping, or at least trying to, on the fund.)

One thing the committee should do is make quite clear that Odom’s practices do not save the state any money at all. Either these employees are being underutilized in their real jobs, so those positions need not be there and cheaper construction labor from the private sector can be hired. Further, liability is a hidden cost. At least 10 workers have been injured on the job at Lacassine, and if the past is any indicator, that’s a hidden cost of perhaps at least $1 million to the final price tag of building the mill.

Of course, Odom does have his special interest supporters. Witness this howler from the Lake Charles Cane Co-op, Inc.:

He has brought together as much of the area talent skills and labor force, to do those jobs that they are best suited for, and by doing so he is exposing his upper management staff into the hard-core arena of what it takes to make development happen …. [He] has been and continues to be the only elected official in the state, that has partnered with the local farmers to do the 'heavy lifting' necessary to save the agricultural industry.

So these bozos give state taxpayers the Bronx cheer by applauding the wasting of money by making white collars into blue, in the name of “hard core … development” and “heavy lifting” … because, as they blatantly admit, they want state taxpayers to subsidize them to keep them in business.

Even if the Department of State Civil Service can’t do anything about this (because the employees being exploited are unclassified and this agency oversees classified employees), maybe this committee can do something to clean this cancer called Odom out of state government. What and how, I don’t know, but any attempt is better than none.Except for the very shortest terms, any stock fund of quality equities or bond fund of high-grade debt has beaten the government’s return over Social Security’s historyExcept for the very shortest terms, any stock fund of quality equities or bond fund of high-grade debt has beaten the government’s return over Social Security’s history

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