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Jay plans amendment to increase postal costs on newspapers, periodicals

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is planning to introduce an amendment to a federal postal reform act that would raise mailing costs for newspapers and other periodicals by 5 percent a year -- until a point when the United States Postal Service decides those increased rates are high enough.

The Senate will debate the 21st Century Postal Service Act this week, including a variety of amendments to cut costs and increase revenues.

The West Virginia Press Association sent out e-mails on Monday morning urging the state's newspapers to ask Rockefeller "why he is proposing higher postal rates for newspapers in such a rough economy."

Tonda Rush, public policy director for the National Newspaper Association, said, "Putting a bigger increase on the cost of distribution will cost more newsroom jobs. That is what we see."

Driving up postal rates, she added, would make it particularly difficult for newspapers at a time they face increased competition from free news sources on the Internet.

"Leaders on both sides of Congress are pressing to get some resolution before the Postal Service runs out of money," Rush told the Gazette on Monday.

"The Postal Service has given a variety of answers as to when they will run out of cash. One calculation is later this year. The postmaster general recently said there is enough money this year, but they will run out in 2013," Rush said.

Late Monday afternoon, Rockefeller said, "My goal is protecting postal customers and employees and finding a way to keep open some of the hundreds of small post offices in West Virginia and elsewhere that are on the chopping block.

"I'm convinced that the Postal Service needs to take steps to address its administrative costs rather than unfairly burdening rural communities. That's why we are looking at a variety of ways for the agency to eliminate its deficit."

On May 15, an existing moratorium that has helped keep open more than 200 rural post offices will end. Many of those post offices are in rural states like West Virginia.

The current Senate bill does not include any increases in postal costs for newspapers and other periodicals. But amendments, if passed, could change all that.

"There is discussion among Democrats to try to impose some kind of increase," Rush said.

"In January, rates for first class mail increased from 44 cents to 45 cents. One proposal is to take first class stamps up to 50 cents."

The current Senate legislation is co-sponsored by: Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; Tom Carper, D-Del.; Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Scott Brown, R-Mass.

That legislation would provide new incentives for current workers to retire and could potentially switch to a five-day delivery system in two years. It would also require the USPS to consider ways to downsize existing mail processing facilities without closing them.

Rush said Carper's office confirmed Rockefeller's plans to introduce an amendment to raise fees for newspapers and periodicals.

On Monday afternoon, Rockefeller and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sent a letter to U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, asking him for details about how the Postal Service spends its money and about its plans to cut post offices in West Virginia.

"The Postal Service plan would hurt West Virginia communities and jobs," Rockefeller said. "The Postal Service needs to restructure, and I'm fighting to protect customers and employees in our state and make sure West Virginians don't get stuck with an unfair burden."

Manchin said, "For so many of our rural communities, the local post office is so much more than a place to send and receive our mail; it's about being connected.... The Postal Service brings so much to our communities."

The Senate floor debate on postal reform is likely to begin Tuesday and continue throughout the week.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., believes the proposed Senate legislation fails to give the Postal Service enough options to increase revenues and gives it too much freedom to cut back services, especially in rural areas.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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