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EDITORIAL: Cancel the post office

The postman won't even ring once on weekends. In a desperate attempt to trim costs, the U.S. Postal Service is cutting off your Saturday service. This move is too little, too late for one of the federal government's most bloated and incompetent bureaucracies.

Yesterday, the Postal Service formally asked federal regulators for permission to move to a five-day delivery schedule. This reduction in service, the bureaucrats claim, will save $2 billion to $3 billion a year. While that big number might sound impressive, this supposedly "self-supporting" government agency has a long way to go.

The post office is projected to bleed $7 billion in red ink this year on top of an existing debt of $13.2 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. By 2020, the postal system will lose $35 billion every year, and the accumulated debt will reach a staggering $230 billion - all of which will be saddled on taxpayers. In short, the modern successor to the pony express is stampeding toward insolvency.

Like the rest of the federal government, the post office's fiscal troubles can be directly traced to its unionized bureaucracy. More than 80 percent of the postal budget is devoted to the agency's 581,070 career employees. Because a mandatory collective bargaining process determines wages, hours worked and workplace conditions, postal employees enjoy benefits even more exorbitant than what other federal employees receive.

The cushy life of a postal worker sounds nice, unless you're one of the 155 million taxpaying Americans who is picking up the tab but can't manage to get a simple letter delivered on time. At the end of last year, postal benefits packages contained $51.9 billion in unfunded retirement obligations. Combine that with the cost of running 36,500 post offices - that's more locations than McDonald's, Starbucks and Walgreens combined - and you have a program where expenses have run out of control at a time when mail delivery has never been less relevant.

It made sense to establish a government postal monopoly in 1782. Back then, no other reliable means of long-distance communication existed. Now, electronic bill-paying options, telephone, e-mail and fax machines have cut the need for envelopes and stamps by 20 percent in just the past few years.

What better time could there be to repeal the statute making it a crime for companies like FedEx and UPS to deliver first-class mail. Taxpayers should insist on cutting off the lumbering postal union bureaucracy and see how well it can truly survive on its own. Opening up America's mailboxes to the free market would ensure better service while saving nearly a quarter-trillion dollars.

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