State Sen. Joe Zarelli has been taking some cheap shots over the past few days over what should be a non-issue: the benefits he receives as a partially disabled Navy veteran.
Here’s the line of attack, broken down into its weird logic:
• Zarelli is the ranking Republican on the Senate’s budget committee. Because the Senate’s budget process has fallen under the control of its Republican minority and three fiscally conservative Democrats, Zarelli has become the chamber’s chief budget writer.
• Zarelli favors eliminating two programs for Washingtonians whose impairments – mental and physical, sometimes complicated by addiction – make it difficult or impossible for them to hold down jobs. This would save $100 million – part of his plan to balance the state budget and make it sustainable in years to come.
• Zarelli is on disability but wants to kick others off disability.
• Ergo, Zarelli is a hypocrite.
As an argument, this line of attack doesn’t make it very far.
The two kinds of disabilities involved aren’t merely apples and oranges; they’re apples and zebras.
By its nature, service in the military involves physical risks. Zarelli took those risks when he joined the Navy and came out with a back injury. His case was presumably reviewed closely; he was judged 40 percent disabled and is receiving the corresponding monthly disability payment.
This is an on-the-job injury; he earned his compensation through his military service. The programs he is targeting for the most part bestow unearned benefits; they are a form of public assistance. We say that despite supporting those programs ourselves; we think the $100 million is well spent keeping unemployable people out of the jails and emergency rooms.
More to the point, Zarelli is being singled out in a way other lawmakers aren’t. Has anyone audited the personal finances of all legislators to look for comparable “hypocrisy”? Not to our knowledge.
He’s being singled out, as far as we can tell, simply because he leads a particular Senate committee. His job is to look for places to cut in the budget: The Legislature has been dealing with a real fiscal crisis, and Zarelli has to find real ways to bring state services in line with state spending.
Zarelli has been one of the good guys in Olympia – he’s reasonable, pragmatic and understands state spending. Many don’t share his philosophy, and there are legitimate reasons to criticize him. This isn’t one of them.