By Keith Rathbun, publisher of The Budget Newspaper and vice president of the ONA Board of Trustees
The relationship between newspapers and USPS is as old as the nation. Recent USPS’ decisions have shown total disregard for this historic relationship. Proposed elimination of Saturday delivery, poor delivery and worsening service standards, exigent rate increases and unfair NSAs with direct mail companies would leave Ben Franklin rolling in his grave.
USPS service is in shambles. Ohio Governor John Kasich and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson like to boast that Ohio and Cleveland are within 600 miles of 60 percent of America’s population. But that doesn’t matter for newspaper delivery; 66 percent of mainland USA is considered “Monday standard,” or four-day delivery from Ohio. Even the majority of Ohio is three-day delivery from Cleveland, Columbus or Cincinnati entry origination. Elimination of Saturday delivery would be crippling to the newspaper industry.
USPS claims that service has not declined, but it has now shuttered half of its mail processing plants. This has caused service, most notably in rural areas, to crumble. Newspapers are losing subscribers because of late deliveries. Yet USPS defends its service standards. This disconnect is because the postal service does not measure on-time delivery of newspapers, only first-class pieces.
It is a bad idea to deregulate the USPS, as proposed in a “reform” bill pending in Congress, Senate Bill 1486. There is some good in the bill, but it is heavily outweighed by the negative. It is forward thinking to end prohibition on postal delivery of wine and spirits. This Senate bill also lessens the burden of prepaying retiree health benefits, and allows for more scrutiny of USPS’ finances during labor arbitrations. But on the downside, the bill sets a quantitative standard for eliminating Saturday delivery, as well as giving USPS total control over setting rates and service standards. It does too little to protect the private sector from an unfettered government monopoly, and not nearly enough to rescue USPS from unfair cost burdens.
Just imagine what could happen to Periodical rates if the Postal Regulatory Commission is legislated powerless. Because USPS regarded newspapers as being “under water” in terms of covering their own mailing costs, the USPS asked for and was granted the right to raise periodical rates 3x inflation. How does this help the economy? The Sugarcreek Budget’s mailing costs increased from 6.5 percent to as much as 12 percent, but delivery service continues to decline. USPS cannot keep raising rates while letting service standards worsen. Newspapers learned long ago that they can’t keep raising rates while circulation continues to decline. There has to be a relationship between price and value.
I attended the March 13 NNA Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., and joined my peers in taking our argument in opposition to S. 1486 to Capitol Hill. The bill had already passed out of The Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, despite Senator Rob Portman’s vote against the bill. It has yet to go to the Senate floor. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is attempting to improve the bill before it reaches debate on the Senate floor.
The Senate should not consider this bill, but rather pass some overdue, meaningful Postal Reform. It is bad public policy to deregulate a government monopoly with such far reaching powers. The USPS is not a company or business. Ben Franklin founded the post office to provide a universal system and service to the people. Its mandate was/is to operate efficiently.
(ONA members are urged to contact members of Congress regarding SB 1486. If you need contact information or other material, contact Executive Director Dennis Hetzel, firstname.lastname@example.org.)