Column: Boosting stamp price won’t work

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Once again, the financially strapped U.S Postal Service is dealing with its problems with a self-defeating proposal to raise stamp prices. And once again, its “solution” will create even more problems and totally ignore the multiple reasons for its troubled state.

The post office has been spared the impact of the federal government shutdown because it is a self-supporting agency. But it hasn’t been spared the fallout from the online era of commerce, which has made it more convenient for its customers to communicate and pay bills through means other than the post office.

As mail volume has shrunk, the Postal Service has responded by raising stamp prices and cutting back mail processing centers, ideas that have proven unpopular. Last week, the postal Board of Governors proposed raising the price of a first-class stamp by 3 cents to 49 cents, a move that must be approved by the independent Postal Regulatory Commission. If the commission signs on, the increase would become effective Jan. 26.

The agency’s other approach has been to cut back the number of facilities like processing centers; Yakima’s likely will be on the chopping block next year along with Pasco, which means mail from Central Washington will be routed through Spokane. This will add a day or two to local delivery time.

Raising prices and reducing service are not a recipe for success, and the public knows it.

In a Gallup poll taken earlier this year, only 41 percent of respondents favored increasing stamp prices. And public hearings about closing local facilities routinely draw large crowds of customers and employees who speak against the effort.

Meanwhile, proposals that the public can swallow, like eliminating Saturday service, go nowhere, because Congress won’t allow them. Congress also refuses to reconsider a 2006 vote that directed the Postal Service to prefund health benefits for future retirees at a cost of $5.5 billion per year.

The agency must pay those benefits for the next 75 years. In addition, it is also saddled with generous labor contracts whose benefits are unsustainable with its current revenues.

The problem lies with a Congress that, of course, can’t even keep the government running.

But until Congress gives the Postal Service the freedom to operate in economically challenging times, the agency will have to make do with “solutions” that are anything but.

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