BERKELEY -- State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, wants to do more than just save the city's historic downtown post office from being sold -- she wants to rescue the entire 238-year-old U.S. Postal Service. But only Congress has regulatory power in such matters. So Hancock, a former Berkeley mayor and spouse of current Mayor Tom Bates, called on her colleagues in the California Legislature to support proposed congressional legislation that she says would resolve the Postal Service debt and strengthen the institution.
Hancock's Senate Joint Resolution No. 15 supporting the Postal Service Protection Act of 2013 passed both houses of the state legislature this month.
The Postal Service Protection Act has 167 co-sponsors in the House, including 31 California representatives, and 30 in the Senate. Neither of California's U.S. senators has signed on.
The bill is still in congressional committees, but Hancock said that underscores the need to add the state's voice. "Since when have we in California ever just thrown up our hands and said, 'We give up,'" she said. "If there's enough public pressure, if people understand what is happening, we can put the brakes on (dismantling the Postal Service) and ultimately reverse course."
Hancock acknowledged that the post office is bleeding billions of dollars every year, but she stressed the need to understand that the red ink stems from the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act requiring the post office to pay retiree health benefits 75 years in advance. "The Republican Congress imposed these conditions on the post office that are not only onerous, but it's almost impossible to comply with them," Hancock said. "That is something that no private business has to do and no other institution has to do. (It's) part of an agenda to privatize public entities and disinvest in our public institutions." Without that requirement, the Postal Service would be in the black, Hancock said.
A key element in the Postal Service Protection Act would eliminate the prepaid benefits requirement. It would also lift restrictions on profit-making activities. "Why can't our post office ship wine and beer and notarize documents or be an Internet hub?" Hancock asked.
The bill would allow the post office to recover overpayments made to federal pension plans, re-establish overnight delivery standards for first-class mail, help keep mail processing facilities open and protect six-day delivery.
It would discourage the sale of post offices by requiring transparency in the process and giving the Postal Regulatory Commission authority over closures based on the impact on the community and postal employees. "The post office is our public option," Hancock said. "If we don't have a thriving post office, we'll all be at the mercy of whatever the private companies want to charge or whatever conditions they wish to impose."
Meanwhile, competing legislation, the Postal Reform Act of 2013, has been introduced in both houses of Congress. That legislation would modify the prefunding requirement so it is paid over 40 years, permit eventual cuts in delivery days and an eventual move from door-to-door to clustered delivery. The Postal Service could ship beer and wine.
"The postal service is really an investment by the people in themselves," Hancock said. "We want to maintain it and allow it to thrive and make sure it doesn't have conditions imposed on it that are impossible to meet and then cited for a reason for cutting it back."