SADOW: A Posthumous Thanks To Bob Odom For The Lacassine Mill

The final tally from a recent notorious exercise of liberal populism has come in, and it took from every Louisianan almost $17 apiece for nothing.

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor looked at the pieces left from building a state-run sugar mill in Lacassine, the idiocy of which this space time and time again exposed. Now finally almost off the state’s ledger, in a report issued last week, the office determined it cost taxpayers a net $71 million (and this was described as the loss at a minimum). Its only revenues came from about a month’s operation, minimal lease payments, and scrap and salvage value.

That’s only the direct cost. Because the bond money for it was floated through the Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority, it deprived the use of that money for its purpose originally intended, suppressing boll weevil activity. This forced the state some years ago to spend extra money it never should have had those funds not gone to the mill’s construction and instead could have been used to prevent flaring of weevil infestations. And since it used state workers in construction, most for tasks not even close to their job descriptions or competencies, an untold amount of productivity in pursuing state activities also was lost.

No feasibility study ever was performed for the facility prior to commencing its construction, and what sparse data were generated concerning its costs and benefits underestimated the former and overestimated the latter. In the final analysis, it acted primarily as a campaigning tool for former, recently deceased, Democrat Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Bob Odom. It shoveled money to support the interests of a small number in the sugar cane business, facilitated by Odom’s stacking and control of the LAFA, insulated by a state revenue dedication. In this way, Odom sought to buy support from those associated with the project that would have a stake in it or would receive money in the course of its construction for his future reelection efforts. It worked for 2003, but by 2007 the distressed nature of the deal had become obvious and that was one issue current Commissioner Mike Strain used to defeat Odom, and who then spent years winding down the mistake in the least harmful way possible.

But while Odom shares the majority of blame for this, also liable were Democrats former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and current Treasurer John Kennedy, who since then switched to the Republican label. That’s because the only check that existed on the project was that, as in the case of all debt issuance by any government entity in the state, it had to go through the State Bond Commission. The treasurer sits on it as its chairman, and while the governor also has direct representation on it, that influence is multiplied because legislative leaders who sit on it almost certainly get those positions because they are allies of the governor.

One might have thought that the absence of a feasibility study and receiving the sparsest of financial data about the deal just a week before the Sep. 18, 2003 meeting of the SBC that took up the matter of putting the state on the hook for $45 million that Blanco would have instructed her representative and allies at the very least to question critically such a request, joined by Kennedy. Instead, they greased the skids for it. To their credit, when Odom floated another similar, more expensive idea a few years later, Blanco and Kennedy both turned against it to derail it, but their lack of attention and due diligence on the previous occasion disserved the state, and is something worth considering when evaluating the impact of their governance of the state over their political careers.

The nightmare ends officially when a last, expedited payment goes out this fiscal year. Funds that could have gone to providing more services in the area of health care and/or blunting reductions in higher education, among others things, instead got frittered away because of decision-making clearly contrary to the best interests of the state as a whole. All because of faith in the bankrupt notion that government ought to engage in activities that should be left only to the private sector to perform, as a corollary to the belief that government must be used as a vehicle to take from those of the out-group and redistributed to those of the in-group, in contrast to the idea that government exists to minimize the interference that individuals face in trying to succeed according to their own visions, talents, and levels of determination.

Louisiana citizens need to remember who was responsible for and, perhaps even more importantly, the consequences of the failed ideology behind this taking of their property and impairment of freedom, and draw the logical lessons thereof.

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