Oh, this is rich. Joe Carr and his buddies have been arguing that Tennessee's refugee population is bad for the state because they cost us money. So, they commissioned a study and, as Blake Farmer over at WPLN reports:
The estimates show Tennessee taxpayers spent $40 million last year to educate school-age refugees and $26 million to cover those on the state’s Medicaid program — TennCare. But refugees more than pay their way, remitting more than $103 million in taxes.
Wow, that sure sounds like refugees add a lot to our state. But, of course, since it didn't reaffirm Carr's beliefs about refugees somehow ruining the state, he's now dismissing the study as possibly flawed, saying "We don’t know if it’s flawed. But we don’t know if it’s accurate. So if we don’t know if it’s accurate or flawed, what was the point of the study?" Apparently one of the so-called flaws is that the study supposedly doesn't take into account how many immigrants might be in prison.
Well, I did some number crunching. We know it costs roughly $25,000 a year to house a prisoner in a Tennessee prison. We also know that there are roughly 21,000 inmates in our prisons. That's .3% of the population of the state. Say the nightmare scenario for Carr and his believers is true and these people are filling our prisons. Even if 1 percent of all refugees were incarcerated — a rate that's more than triple the state rate and highly unlikely — it would cost Tennessee $14.4 million. If refugees were incarcerated at the same rate as good old fashioned normal Tennessee criminals, it would cost the $4.3 million.
But, we know from the study that, even after you take out what it costs to educate refugees and TennCare them, they're still contributing $37 million to the economy. Even if we take out the money for our hypothetical prisoners, refugees in general are still making a huge positive economic contribution to the state. Even if you wildly inflate the incarceration numbers, the impact is positive.
This summer I read Jesse Walker's The United States of Paranoia, which, though not specifically about Tennessee politics, is one of the best explanations for what's going on in Tennessee politics you're going to find. Anyway, the parts I want to focus on specifically is his contention that, for as long as we've been a nation, we've been a people primed to believe that outsiders are coming into our communities to ruin everything. From as far back as the Indians out in the Massachusetts woods in the 1600s to the refugees living in Nashville today, there's always someone willing to believe that these outsiders are plotting the ruination of our way of life. So, this is nothing new. It's our same old paranoia, just with a new focus to match the outsider du jour.
But also, Walker makes an important point that there comes a moment in a conspiracy theory's life when contrary evidence doesn't matter. The conspiracy theory, in the minds of the conspiracy theory believers, becomes so pernicious and over-arching that evidence of their theory being wrong doesn't change their minds, but just makes them believe the conspiracy is more far-reaching.
I feel like we're at that point with Joe Carr. He believes refugees are costing Tennesseans tons of money. He thinks there's some bizarre plot by the federal government to "cost-shift" these refugees onto the state. And so a study is commissioned and the study finds that refugees are actually putting a ton of money into Tennessee's economy. Does Carr say, "Oh, hey, wow. I was wrong. Awesome. Carry on, refugees."? No, now he's convinced that there's something wrong with the study, that there's secret information being withheld.
The conspiracy just goes deeper than he realized. Or something.
This is a fine way to run an X-Files storyline, but it's no way to run a government. I don't know how you get people to accept the very study they wanted done, but, shoot, it is just like the X-Files. The truth is out there. It's just not a truth Carr likes.