EDITORIAL: Change in pension funding could keep six-day mail delivery viable

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In his autobiography, Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” There was a lot of truth in that humorous remark, which helps explain why the facts aren’t always what they appear to be.

One example is the often-stated “fact” that the U.S. Postal Service is losing money and needs to reduce mail delivery from six to five days a week and eventually to three days a week.

Postal officials say that ending Saturday mail delivery would save $3 billion a year. But would that be the case if doing so led to an even further decline in the use of the Postal Service?

Daily newspapers are delivered in rural parts of Perry and most counties by the U.S. Mail. If Saturday mail were discontinued, though, newspaper publishers would likely hire private delivery people to make sure customers on rural routes continue to get their Saturday papers on time. They might then decide that it’s just as easy to also use those private carriers for Monday through Friday delivery, depriving the Postal Service of even more business.

Most community newspapers, including the Perry County News, are delivered to all their subscribers via the U.S. Mail. But if the USPS goes to three-days-a-week delivery (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) within 15 years, as Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has said might happen, the many community newspapers with Thursday editions, again including the Perry County News, would have a decision to make: Change their publication days, let subscribers get the paper a day late, or switch to private delivery. We think many would choose the last option, which would again decrease the USPS’s business.

So Congress should think long and hard about reducing mail delivery dates, particularly when the Postal Service really is actually making money — not losing it — on mail delivery.

That’s right. Though the so-called facts say that the USPS lost $8 billion last year and is on track to lose at least that much this year, Fredric Rolando, President of the National Association of Letter Carriers, wrote in USA Today July 25 that the USPS “has run a net operational profit delivering mail despite the worst recession in 80 years, despite Internet diversion. Since 2007, revenues have exceeded costs by $837 million.

If that’s true, why do we hear how much money the USPS is losing?

Rolando said it is because of a 2006 congressional mandate that the USPS pre-fund retiree health benefits for the next 75 years — “something no other public agency or private firm does. These $5.5 billion annual payments have been the difference between a positive and negative ledger.”

He told USA Today that the solution is to “let the USPS stop depleting operating funds and instead make these payments by an internal transfer from its pension surpluses.”

We agree. While we don’t want to see the USPS have shortfalls in its pension funding, as some government and private agencies now do, we don’t see why it should be held to a stricter standard than any other public or private agency offering pensions. And Rolando said this move “would leave future obligations fully funded.”

The USPS could also go ahead with some of its proposed budget cuts. People in Derby, Lincoln City and Mariah Hill may not like to lose their post offices, but we could support those proposed closings because of their lack of business and the fact that other post offices are fairly close. Lincoln City and Mariah Hill each have one only about three miles down the road.

We would keep the Leopold post office open, though, because of its central location in Perry County, including its proximity to Perry Central school.

Like all companies when business declines somewhat, the USPS can stand some belt tightening. But instead of asking Congress to quit mandating six-day delivery, it should lobby for Rolando’s proposed change in the USPS’s pension funding mandate.

Our view: Editorials reflect the opinions of the newspaper.

Your view: Tell us what you think. E-mail us at editor@perrycountynews.com or mail your comments to P.O. Box 309, Tell City, IN 47586.