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Our view: Balance savings, service to decide future of USPS

As much as Northlanders, especially rural residents and Duluthians, can appreciate and applaud the efforts of U.S. Sen. Al Franken and others to keep open rural post offices and mail-processing facilities, they also ought to pause.

As much as Northlanders, especially rural residents and Duluthians, can appreciate and applaud the efforts of U.S. Sen. Al Franken and others to keep open rural post offices and mail-processing facilities, they also ought to pause.

Is the inevitable just being delayed? And at what cost? Are necessary, difficult choices that make viable, long-term sense being challenged and abandoned in favor of all's-good-for-now bandages that won't hold up much beyond the next election cycle?

There's no denying the U.S. Postal Service is in deep financial trouble. Blame technology like e-mail and texting that makes "snail mail" obsolete. Blame an attitude shift that spawned phrases such as "snail mail." Blame unprecedented requirements for funding now the health-care costs of future USPS retirees. All of that led the postal service to announce, just last week, that it expects to temporarily run out of cash in October unless Congress allows cuts including ending Saturday mail delivery and relief from those advance retiree health-care payments. The postal service also announced it lost $3.2 billion in the quarter that ended March 31 -- its 10th straight quarter of losses.

Despite the difficulties, the postal service, which is supposed to be self-sufficient, seems to be backing away from measures it proposed to improve its financial bottom line. Last month, after impassioned pleas in D.C. from Franken, the Democratic senator from Minnesota, and others, a bill was introduced to keep open the mail-processing facility in Duluth and other facilities. That bill remains in limbo. And just last week, the USPS withdrew plans to close 3,700 small, rural post offices across the nation in favor of reduced hours.

As badly as we want ours -- just like every community wants their post offices and postal facilities -- will a maintained abundance of mail-sorting plants and rural postal stations, even with shorter hours, accomplish the cost savings necessary?

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"People throughout Minnesota should be able to get their local papers or prescription drugs delivered in a timely fashion no matter where they live," Sen. Franken said April 17 in a statement. "Post offices and processing plants are critical to timely mail delivery, which is why I've been fighting to stop them from being closed. Today's vote to move forward on postal reform is the first step in the right direction."

Hard to argue with -- as long as that direction is toward an appropriate balance of savings and service.

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