The Beacon Center Tried to “Fact-Check” The Holler. It Did Not end Well For Them.

Something happened on Twitter today, and we felt the need to share it with the rest of Tennessee, in case anyone missed it.

The Beacon Center, a think tank/state policy group with ties to ALEC, which imposes union-busting, environment hurting, middle class-killing model legislation on the entire country on a regular basis, and the Koch brothers, who have done more damage to this planet and played an enormous role in our skyrocketing wealth inequality  –  appears to be quite infatuated with us here at the Holler.

First there was their podcast episode a few months back, in which they spent a good amount of time talking about us, seeming to concede that it was good to have a voice in Tennessee to present the other side of the narrative they’ve been pushing for years – a narrative in support of our current GOP supermajority, which touts our “fiscal conservatism” and “fiscal stability” while gleefully ignoring the fact that we’re #1 in rural hospital closures per capita, #1 in medical bankruptcies, at the bottom in infant mortality, opioid deaths, health care access, per pupil spending, the list goes on.

Recently we pointed out that while the Beacon Center and the politicians they control regularly vilify the “federal government” and paint it as a boogie monster, Tennessee is actually very dependent on that boogie monster. In fact, according to Governor Lee’s own budget, Tennessee gets nearly 40% of its budget from federal funding (39.9% in 2014, 37% in 2018, 36% in 2020).

Yes, “fiscally stable” Tennessee is one of the most dependent states in the union, which means we are VERY good at managing other people’s money.

Don’t take it from us, take it from the Nashville Business journal, or Knoxville News.

A simple Google search should’ve turned those up, but the Beacon Center appears to have a hard time believing this reality, and seized upon that tweet of ours last week which included a study that said exactly what those others have said.

Stephanie Whitt, whose Twitter bio calls her an “EVP” at the Beacon Center (right next to the extremely overused words “individual freedom and liberty”, which never seem to apply to the freedom to marry whoever you choose, or control your own reproductive fate, or use medical marijuana to ease your pain… it’s only “freedom” when it’s stuff they like… but we digress…)

Stephanie took it upon herself to sit down and “fact check” the study we posted, a study that lined up with all other available information, and attempt to “debunk” the notion that Tennessee is one of the most dependent states.

Stephanie declared:

“This study is not only misleading in the way it calculates federal dependency. It’s just plain wrong. Here are the reasons why.”

Her argument included 3 bullet points, leading off with the notion that for some reason we shouldn’t use percentages when calculating dependency, we should use total budget:

“The study calculates dependency based on a percentage of a state’s budget. Basically, this means that because Tennessee has less revenue (see lower taxes), it will appear to take more federal dollars if the study is just based on a percentage of that state’s budget. This means a state taking more federal money (California cough cough), but taxing their residents at a much higher rate would score “better” than a low tax state taking the same amount or less federal money.”

Um, yes, Stephanie. This is how percentages work. The more federal funds we take in relative to our own dollars, the higher the dependency. How this can be presented as a “reason” the study is wrong does not become clear until point 2, which is really one for the ages:

“Dollar for dollar, Tennessee is nowhere near the top of the list taking federal tax dollars. California for example receives $436 billion in total revenue from the federal government vs. Tennessee’s $76 billion.”

Stephanie is already way off the rails here. She ignores 2 very important points: That California PUTS IN much more than we do, and that California has MILLIONS MORE PEOPLE than we do.

The idea that “total revenue” is a better measure of dependency than looking at the amount we put in vs. the amount we take out defies logic: If the federal government were to stop sending money to Tennessee, Tennessee would have a 36%-sized hole blown in its budget. That’s what dependency looks like.

The same is not true for California, which puts in more than it takes out.

This is not going well for Stephanie.

She goes on to point 3, her final point, the big finish:

“The Rockefeller Institute of Government published a report in January 2019 titled “Giving or Getting? New York’s Balance of Payments with the Federal Government,” which shows what states give to the federal government versus what they receive. If you remove grants, contracts, and federal employee wages (like TVA employees) from the equation to get a true calculation of what Tennessee gives vs. what it receives, it shows we give virtually the same amount in tax dollars per capita as we receive back ($7,764 paid per capita and receives $7,807). We definitely pay our fair share and receive a fair share of our tax dollars back from the federal government for Tennessee residents.”

Wait – what? If you REMOVE grants, contracts, TVA employees… you get a “TRUE CALCULATION”?

So we should ignore all the ways Tennessee benefits from the federal government, the impact of the TVA and other federal government programs on our state, and that will paint a “TRUER” picture of how Tennessee does or doesn’t depend on the federal government?

This appears to be what the Beacon Center spends all day doing – finding ways to spin actual numbers and facts to fit a perverted view of how the world works so they can feel better about doing everything they can to keep government from helping the people who actually need it.

Their argument about dependency is so deeply flawed one can only imagine they actually believe it.

It would be almost funny if it wasn’t so damn sad. Tennessee is in bad shape. We have a rural health care crisis raging on, but instead of expanding medicaid and covering 300,000 Tennesseans while helping to fight the opioid crisis that’s ravaging our state, and keeping the lights on in some of these rural hospitals that are closing unnecessarily – mostly in non-expansion states – the Beacon center is lying to themselves about the uselessness of percentages and pretending we don’t rely far more on the federal government to survive than we do.

Their superpower appears to be creating an alternate universe for themselves in which Tennessee is thriving, and every county is Williamson County. We’d humbly suggest that they should take a drive into the rural parts of the state once in a while – and they will see that is very much not the case.

We need to expand Medicaid. We’ve lost $7 billion and counting.

But more importantly, people like Stephanie and her pals at the Beacon center need to take a long look in the mirror, realize that this isn’t a damn game and that people are actually being harmed by their policies… and go back and take a few math classes while they’re at it.

Also, keep following us. Maybe you’ll learn something.

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