Tester introduces measures to protect rural post offices, cut executive pay

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

 
(U.S. SENATE) – As the Senate works to reform the U.S. Postal Service, Senator Jon Tester is introducing multiple measures to protect rural post offices in Montana and clamp down on the salaries of the organization’s top employees.

Tester, Montana’s only member of the committee that oversees the Postal Service, is pushing an amendment (online HERE) that blocks the Postal Service from closing any rural post offices for at least two years. After the two-year moratorium, the Postal Service could only close rural post offices if it meets certain requirements, such as verifying that another post office is within 10 miles and that seniors and people with disabilities will be able to receive service similar to what they currently receive.

“The folks in charge of the Postal Service just don’t understand how shutting down rural post offices hurts rural communities and the people and businesses who live and work there, ” Tester said. “Putting a hold on rural post office closures and holding the Postal Service’s top leaders accountable will protect rural America, and make sure the Postal Service isn’t making irresponsible decisions.”

Tester also introduced an amendment with Senator Al Franken from Minnesota (online HERE) that allows the Postal Regulatory Commission to overturn any Postal Service decision to close a post office if the Postal Service does not meet criteria. The Postal Regulatory Commission is an independent agency with oversight over the Postal Service.

Tester is also going after the high salaries of top Postal Service executives. Tester introduced a provision (online HERE) to cut the Postmaster General’s base salary by at least one-third. The Postmaster General makes about $400,000 per year in salary and benefits. Tester is also seeking to cut the pay of other Postal Service executives and deny bonuses.

“The Postal Service is public service,” Tester said. “And there’s no reason folks at the Postal Service should be making more than the Defense Secretary–especially if they’re turning to rural communities for cuts.”

The Senate is considering the 21st Century Postal Service Act this week. The legislation is aimed at reforming the Postal Service as it struggles with financial troubles. Many of the problems are based on a 2006 law that required the Postal Service to prepay retirement benefits of postal employees at a rate higher than necessary.

The Postal Service has proposed closing or consolidating post offices and mail processing facilities around the country. At Tester’s request, the Postal Service delayed plans to close up to 85 post offices and processing facilities in Montana to give Congress time to pass a solution.

Tester last week got the Postal Service to delay closing any of Montana’s mail processing facilities during the state’s upcoming primary election season.

Tester also spoke on the Senate floor today about his amendments to the postal reform bill. Tester’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below. Video is available online HERE.

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Floor Remarks
U.S. Senator Jon Tester
April 18, 2012

PREPARED FOR DELIVERY.

Thank you Mr. President. I rise today to discuss the Postal Reform bill.

The Postal Service keeps rural America connected. It helps Montana seniors receive everyday necessities like medicines. It allows small businesses to conduct business. It even makes sure our election ballots get counted on time.

That’s why this reform bill matters to folks across rural America.

First, I thank my colleagues on the committee for their hard work on the substitute amendment to the Postal Reform bill. 

I want them to know how much I appreciate their efforts to work across the aisle and with my colleagues and me to address several of our concerns with the bill.

This bill has come a long way from the version that I opposed in committee. 

But there is still work to be done to make sure it works for rural America.

I have been working for several months on some changes, such as preserving the requirement for overnight delivery and providing better protection for rural communities that could lose their post offices.

But we need to go further to find more ways to keep rural post offices open. 

That is why Senator Franken and Senator Levin and I have introduced an amendment to prevent the Postal Service from closing a post office if it leaves rural communities without sufficient access to postal services, from buying stamps to regular mail service. 

Our amendment gives the Postal Regulatory Commission more teeth in being able to reject the Postal Service’s efforts to close post offices and mail processing facilities if the Postal Service does not follow the criteria laid out in the bill.

Mr. President, the postmaster general is seeking to close thirty seven hundred post offices and over two hundred mail processing facilities. 

This bill will result in the reduction of another one hundred thousand postal employees. It will re-write the rules of workers compensation across the entire federal government.

In short, it will change the lives of many, many people – to say nothing of the millions of Americans who will be impacted by a change in mail service. 

So in my mind, it is critical that the upper management at the Postal Service and the Board of Governors lead by example.

That is why I am offering an amendment to reduce the number of governors on the Postal Board of Governors from nine to seven. 

The Board is currently not at capacity, and it should be encouraged to work with the six governors who presently sit on the Board. 

Governors receive compensation for expenses and a stipend of $30,000 per year, with total possible compensation up to $42,600. This may seem like small savings.

However, reducing up to $80,000 a year by cutting two positions could save three post offices in my state: In Dupuyer, Wyola, and Coffee Creek.

We need to make sure everyone is tightening their belts, not just folks who depend on mail service and the employees who will be forced into retirement or laid-off over the next few years.

My final amendment limits the six most senior postal executives – including the Postmaster General – to a base salary of not more than $200,000. That’s what a cabinet secretary makes.

I know some folks think the Postal Service should be a private enterprise and that the pay of postal executives should reflect that. 

But the reality is, the Postal Service is a public service. It’s right there in the Constitution that the Congress has the power to establish Post Offices. You can’t get much more public than that.

Again, the savings from this amendment may seem like a drop in the bucket, but saving just $200,000 a year in reduced executive compensation is the same savings you would get from the closure of the mail processing centers in Helena, my state’s capital, and Havre, an important town in north-central Montana. 

To me, the choice is simple. If the Postal Service is out of money and painful cuts have to be made, they need to be felt up at the top just as much as at the bottom.

I hope we get the chance to consider these amendments. They are relevant to the bill. 

This is a debate that is long overdue. It’s time to have a serious debate in the Senate about what we want the Postal Service to look like.

That is why I voted to begin the debate on a bill that I cannot support yet. 

I want to get to the point where we have a bill that is going to save the Postal Service, not lead to its dismantling. 

So let’s have the debate. Let’s look at amendments and start voting. 

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.