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|Pilgrim's Pride deal moves forward|
A state plan to save more than 1,500 northeast Louisiana jobs took its first steps this week, after legislators suspended rules and took up the matter.
The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved changes to the governor's economic development mega-fund, clearing away the first obstacle to Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposal to spend some $50 million on the purchase of Pilgrim's Pride's poultry facility in Farmerville.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill without amendment, after facing token opposition from members of the New Orleans delegation.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth called the move a "positive first step" in the process and applauded colleagues for their swift action. Walsworth sponsored the legislation, which allowed mega-fund monies to be appropriated for projects like the chicken plant endeavor in Union Parish.
"That this was one of the first bills taken up by the Senate Finance Committee shows how serious we are about saving Louisiana jobs," said Walsworth, R-West Monroe. "That we passed it out of committee unanimously shows how we all recognize the importance of this plant not just to northeast Louisiana, but to the whole state as well."
Jindal announced earlier this year he would commit state funds to help Foster Farms purchase the Pilgrim's Pride's facility. Foster Farms is a California-based poultry processor.
Wednesday's passage of the bill does not mean state money for the chicken plant purchase will be freed up immediately.
To spend the money on the plant, legislators must approve the expenditure.
Kostelka expressed optimism both the change to the law and the expenditure of the funds would clear the Legislature before a crucial, May 15, deadline because most lawmakers don't begrudge projects in one part of the state or another.
"There's going to be an argument, but I think we'll get it passed," Kostelka said. "I'm ready to get up and make a speech about it."
Kostelka said representatives from Foster Farms and Pilgrim's Pride have expressed a desire to close the deal by May 15 -- just three weeks from now.