Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Blanco backs $20 million rice mill plan
By MICHELLE MILHOLLON
Capitol News Bureau
The Blanco administration wants to build the $20 million rice milling facility proposed by Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Bob Odom. However, Odom will no longer be involved with the construction — a turnabout that he said Monday is fine with him.
Odom still wants to use hurricane tax incentives to refinance $45 million in debt on the state-built sugar mill in Lacassine. He originally pitched that idea as a way to finance the rice facility construction. Now he says the refinancing would save the state as much as $7 million.
But state officials are not sure that it is permissible to use hurricane relief purely to pinch pennies despite Odom’s insistence that it is.
However, Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc said Monday that the facility will be built through a cooperative endeavor agreement between the state Department of Economic Development and rice farmers.
“The governor is committed to the project,” LeBlanc said. “It’s going to be included in the executive budget.”
Rice farmers struck a better deal with the Blanco administration, he said.
“I said, ‘Take cash,’ ” Odom said.
Odom said his legal advisers told him the incentives could be used to refinance the Lacassine debt.“They said it is legal,” he said.