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Bills want to drive stakes into dollar-sucking policies

As far as statewide policy goes, the number one vampire in Louisiana is Bob Odom. You can have statewide criticism of his notion to build a sugar cane processing plant with state backing without state oversight, you can have a report he helped commission to try to justify it end up showing it’s a bad deal for the state, but he just won’t give up the idea.

Odom said he still believes the project will help farmers in central Louisiana. "It keeps those farmers in business," Odom said, noting that the study says the plant might not be a failure for the first 10 years. "That is 10 years down the road."

So, maybe a dozen or two farmers might not be driven out of business by market forces with this mill, while Odom would make every single person in the state pay an average of almost $20 each to help prop them up with the mill – at least in the first 10 years. Assuming the cost isn’t really $105 million as the consultants say it really will be. Assuming the price of sugar doesn’t go noticeably lower (the likely scenario outlined by our very own LSU) as production and imports slowly rise while demand falls.

So he’s going to keep fighting for it at this Thursday’s meeting of the State Bond Commission. Might as well; it worked for the number one vampire of local policy in the state, Keith Hightower. Despite public opposition to the plan, despite no true feasibility study that would say building a publicly-owned hotel next to Shreveport’s convention center would not lose money, Mayor Hightower is still going after it.

But some wooden stakes may be on the way to help kill these policies that, even with every shred of evidence against their viability, somehow survive to waste huge amounts of taxpayer dollars. HB 232, prefiled the week before last by Rep. Shirley Bowler, aims to rein in Odom’s authority. Basically, it places almost all of the power that a Commissioner of Agriculture could exercise into the hands of the Legislature, provided the people pass it as a constitutional amendment. This would make it easier to counter such abuses of power as we’ve seen from Odom.

Regarding out-of-control Shreveport mayors, two local-area legislators are taking aim at Hightower. Rep. Wayne Waddell’s HB 259 would prevent (except by unanimous vote) the Bond Commission from approving any proposal that was being litigated (presuming that frivolous suits would be recognized as such by the Commission and would garner unanimous approval). It would be too late to stop the issuance of bonds for the hotel project, but perhaps the state will learn from its mistakes.

Sen. Max Malone’s SB 260 is much nearer to the point. It provides no bonds shall be issued, or no construction shall commence on a project for which bonds are issued, until an authority of a municipality having a population of more than two hundred thousand but less than two hundred twenty thousand (take one guess which municipality in Louisiana qualifies under this provision) has received prior approval by the electorate of the participating political subdivision on whose behalf or benefit the bonds will be issued.

The bill’s wording means, if passed, that construction of the hotel effectively would be halted. Normally, I’m not a fan of such specific local legislation, but desperate things become necessary to override a decision that is so at odds with the well-being of the people of Shreveport.

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