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Protect mail center; House needs to follow Senate's lead on Postal Service reform measures

The vexing question of how to fix the post office and responsibly retain the Buffalo processing center zigs and zags toward some unsure destination, but some hopeful developments have emerged lately. On their own, they aren't enough to preserve the William Street facility and its 700 jobs, but they at least keep the possibility alive.

Let's be clear, though. It makes more economic sense to keep the Buffalo facility open than to close it. Not only has the Postal Service failed to produce a credible explanation for its push to close the processing center, but the evidence suggests that it will be counterproductive to the Postal Service's goal of remaining efficiently and usefully in business.

That, of course, must be the first goal. Because of the severe financial challenges posed by the Internet and also radically foolish congressional prefunding requirements, the U.S. Postal Service is reeling financially. It needs to take action to restore its financial integrity and preserve its still-critical function of moving the mail.

But the Postal Service has moved erratically, as evidenced by its poorly thought-out plan to close the William Street processing center. It is one of the post office's most efficient centers and one large enough to handle an increased workload. Yet the Postal Service wants to close the center, with the result that letters sent from Buffalo to Buffalo must first go to a smaller center in Rochester before being returned to Buffalo.

Predictably, pressure is rising around the country to forestall changes. That may be unfortunate in the long run, but nonetheless wise in this case, given the haphazard way this matter has been handled. The post office needs a better master plan and Congress needs to drop its nutty insistence that the post office prefund retiree health benefits for the next 75 years. That, alone, costs $5.5 billion a year.

In the meantime, a couple of useful adjustments are under consideration. Both are in the U.S. Senate. The more radical House of Representatives is resisting.

First, the Senate moved to restrict the closing of rural post offices for at least a year. After one year, the Postal Service would have to take rural issues into special consideration, including economic impact, the quality of Internet broadband service and location. Post offices would generally have to remain open if the next closest facility was more than 10 miles away.

That protection could be useful for much of rural Western New York, though it would do nothing to keep the William Street facility open. Another Senate measure would.

The processing center would be able to stay open for at least three more years under Senate legislation that prevents the Postal Service from closing processing centers if doing so would end overnight mail delivery in any part of the region served by that center. That would grant a reprieve to the William Street station and also give the Postal Service time to craft a credible plan for coping with what are undeniably severe economic challenges.

Unfortunately, neither the Postal Service nor the House of Representatives seems very interested in that possibility. But this is a start. Reps. Brian Higgins, Kathleen C. Hochul and Louise M. Slaughter need to leverage the Senate's approach to protect not only jobs, but adequate mail service in Buffalo.