What to do about the Postal Service's woes?

Saturday, March 6, 2010; A14

In his Feb. 28 Outlook commentary, Postmaster General John E. Potter attempted to refute "five myths" about the U.S. Postal Service. The Postal Service is indeed in dire financial straits, but I disagree with his assertion that the 2006 Postal Reform Act is in part to blame for its financial crisis. As the author of this law, I want to set the record straight.

The Postal Service's request to Congress for relief from its obligation to prefund retiree health benefits is just the most recent in the history of the Postal Service's requests to Congress roughly every three years for financial assistance in exchange for the promise of becoming financially solvent. In 2003, 2006 and 2009, Congress relieved the Postal Service of making billions of dollars in payments toward its liabilities.

Now, after the Postal Service has been slow to take advantage of the increased flexibilities provided by the 2006 Postal Reform Act, the postmaster general once again has returned to Congress, seeking billions of dollars in relief from its liabilities and, again, making more promises of future profitability.

Instead of blaming the Postal Service's financial condition on the 2006 Postal Reform Act, the postmaster general should develop new revenue streams and continue to reduce costs. He should seek new customers and more volume rather than cutting service and wishing away liabilities.

Susan Collins, Washington

The writer, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Maine.

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There's little to cheer about in the U.S. Postal Service's campaign to end Saturday service ["Postal Service might lose $238 billion over decade," news story, March 3], although many states must be relieved that Tuesday deliveries apparently will survive a proposed restructuring.

Oregon, which conducts elections by mail, enjoys a vital partnership with the Postal Service. Postal workers carried 2 million ballots in a recent statewide election, and the possibility of cutbacks is truly distressing.

A year ago, the service contemplated an end to Tuesday deliveries. In 2008, a fifth of all Oregon ballots cast arrived on Election Day. Shutting off Tuesday mail could have disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters.

States increasingly rely on the mail for elections. Washington will soon conduct all elections by mail. Many states let voters permanently receive absentee ballots -- the same process as vote-by-mail -- for every election.

States find out quickly that the electorate likes voting by mail. It's popular, saves money and fits our busy lives.

The Postal Service has been critical to Oregon's success with vote-by-mail.

If USPS has to reduce service by a day, it should do Oregon and many other states a favor by making sure its difficulties won't disrupt elections.

Kate Brown, Salem, Ore.

The writer is Oregon's secretary of state.

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Raising postage rates will result only in fewer mailings. The cancellation of Saturday mail delivery would be a temporary solution at best. The only solution that I can see is to dissect postal districts. Deliver mail in half of a district on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and in the other half on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Result: Half as many drivers, half as many vehicles, half as much fuel used. Rarely, if ever, would anyone be seriously inconvenienced if a letter came one day later.

Gerry Ridgeway, Severna Park

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