March 18, 2018
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P.O. Boxed in

The initial reaction to news that the U.S. Postal Service, which is perennially short of money, plans to study the possibility of closing some post offices illustrates why state and federal governments have such a hard time balancing their budgets.

Like so many other services, people expect a lot of them — even in remote areas — but don’t want to pay a lot for them.

The Postal Service isn’t technically a government service — it has been self funded for 40 years — but it faces a lot of congressional and federal regulatory oversight.

Its plight mirrors that of many government agencies. On one hand, there are loud calls to cut expenses. But, when a plan to cut expenses is presented, especially one that would reduce services, it is decried. Post offices, schools, hospitals, fill in the blank, are the center of our communities and can’t possibly be closed, goes the familiar refrain.

But, as the postal service is likely to find if it is allowed to proceed with the study, some of these entities must — and should — be shuttered.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Postal Service said it would study closing about 3,700 of its branches across the country, including 34 in Maine, many of them in rural areas. Instead of applauding this work, there was immediate criticism.

The state’s congressional delegation uniformly criticized the move. “The Postal Service needs to find ways to cut costs but I don’t think closing the small post offices that are the backbone of so many towns is the best way to do it,” said 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree, who is from the island of North Haven.

If the Postal Service can’t close a post office that is almost walking distance (Chamberlain) or a short drive (East Newport) from another one, it will be hamstrung when it comes to balancing the books. Likewise, if communities reject the option of closing schools or the state can’t reduce services, the finances, at some point, simply don’t work anymore.

The federal government is hugely in debt, in part, because it is easier for lawmakers to keep adding to the expense side of the ledger rather than being honest with the public and saying that services must be cut back.

Closing post offices won’t solve the Postal Service’s financial woes, but it could be part of the solution. Stopping such a review before it begins isn’t productive.

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