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|Local lawmakers support new contract for Saints|
A new contract will keep the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans through 2025 while in northeast Louisiana, the future of the Pilgrim's Pride poultry processing facility seems a little more secure.
The new agreement with Saints owner Tom Benson means that the state will inject some $85 million in budget surplus funds into renovations at Louisiana Superdome. At the same time, Benson committed to purchasing Dominion Tower, a vacant office building next door to the Superdome. The state will lease office space at Dominion Tower once it has been brought up to speed to house state offices.
Dominion Tower has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
State Rep. Frank Hoffmann said he has mixed emotions about the new contract, which the Legislature must approve before the state and the Saints can consummate it.
"The Saints are important for New Orleans and Louisiana and I'm a Saint's fan," said Hoffmann, R-West Monroe. "However, I want them to spend our money wisely."
Hoffmann said he will support the new contract on the recommendation of Gov. Bobby Jindal because he trusts the governor.
"Unless I see something that's just way out of whack, I'm likely to support whatever that recommendation is," Hoffmann said.
Hoffmann also suggested another reason the northeastern Louisiana legislative delegation should support the new contract. He pointed to the Jindal administration commitment of spending $50 million in state funds to help Foster Farms buy Pilgrim Pride's chicken processing plant, saving some 1,500 direct and indirect jobs.
Lawmakers from around the state support Jindal's pledge to help Foster Farms, even from legislators "who don't know anything about chickens," said Hoffmann.
"We've received great support from the rest of the Legislature for that, which is one of the reasons we have to be cognizant of the Saints deal," Hoffmann said.
State Sen. Francis Thompson said having lawmakers consider both the Pilgrim's Pride deal and the new Saints contract at one time helped ensure both would pass.
"It was a good strategy on the governor's part to set the Saints deal at the time of the Pilgrim's Pride deal," said Thompson, D-Delhi. "It put us in the position of being boxed into both deals, so to speak."
Thompson said it is always difficult for legislators from the northeastern Louisiana delegation to support subsidizing the Saints because there is little direct impact.
However, Thompson suggested that by having lawmakers take up both the Saints and Pilgrim's Pride deal at the same time, it made it easier for everyone "to get together on the deal."
State Sen. Neil Riser also expressed reluctance to support the new Saints contract but said he would ultimately vote for it.
"I don't necessarily like subsidizing the Saints in any way," said Riser, R-Columbia. "But the way this deal is structured is more about the Superdome rather than subsidizing the Saints and their owners."
Riser said many of his constituents have indicated they do not want him to support the new Saints contract, but Riser said he understood the benefit the Saints offer "to the entire state" through tourism and the like.
State Rep. Noble Ellington has reservations about the state spending $85 million to upgrade the Superdome while lawmakers are considering making deep budget cuts, especially in higher education.
"I have mixed emotions about the Saints deal," said Ellington, D-Winnsboro. "I do think the deal we have is better than the deal we had."
Both Thompson and Ellington said the new contract gave the state more favorable terms than previous agreements. Ellington said he was pleased that the new contract would free the state from making large, annual payments to the Saints to ensure the team remains in Louisiana.
"When you start subsidizing someone who probably has more money than the state, I'm just not sure that's something we need to do," Ellington said.
Meanwhile, in Union Parish, poultry producers are breathing their first sigh of relief after the state Senate overwhelmingly approved changing state law to allow Gov. Bobby Jindal to spend some $50 million on purchasing the Pilgrim's Pride facility for California-based poultry producer Foster Farms.
The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the measure on Tuesday, sending the bill to the full House for consideration.
Thompson said the state's assistance in helping Foster Farms buy the chicken processing plant in Farmerville would protect as many as 7,000 jobs, "when you take into account the domino effect."
The Union Parish plant employs more than 1,500 workers and keeps as many as 3,000 other individuals employed in chicken farming. Thompson added that "any number of jobs" was an indirect result of the plant.
Ellington said changing the law to allow money to be spent saving jobs was a "much needed move."
"We shouldn't be focused just on new jobs," Ellington said. "We need to also focus on job retention in our economic development efforts."