Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- March 27-April 9, 2005

This page includes posts from March 27-April 9, 2005 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

April 9, 2005
Shameless Self-Promotion

I posted my newest golf book review this morning, while waiting for The Masters Tournament to return to television coverage.

Fittingly enough, the subject of the review is Phil Mickelson's One Magical Sunday, last year's winner.

The folks at Time Warner Book Group helpfully sent along a review copy.

His fans will love it.

April 7, 2005
Light blogging

Posting will be even lighter than usual here the next few days.

During that time I plan to spend at least twelve to fifteen hours or so closely observing some beautiful landscaping and such on the USA Network and CBS, which inevitably will cut into writing time.

I appreciate your understanding at this critical juncture.

April 7, 2005
The Naturalist

My bride is a city girl, and deeply proud of it.

A native of Southwest Philadelphia, she's often fond of telling tales of falling asleep as a child to the sounds of trucks, trains, and trolleys rolling by her row house window off Woodland Avenue.

Our own row house in Wilmington was a near-copy of the kind found in her old neighborhood, and except for the absence of trolleys, the night noises were much the same for her.

However, when we moved to our current home in what was once a former soybean field, a few miles from Rehoboth Beach, I was a bit concerned that she would have some trouble acclimating herself to the new surroundings.

For the most part, she has handled the change very well--except for peepers.

The annual spring love-fest of thousands of tiny tree frogs in the woods and wetlands near our home almost always causes a reaction from her when we go for our evening walk with the dog.

For some reason she just can't stand the noise.

On the other hand, I always look forward to hearing the frogs. Their calls bring back fond memories of my own childhood.

There are naturalists and then there are naturalists, I suppose.

April 6, 2005
A Severe Case of the Flutters

Some of my fellow Democrats are in an absolute tizzy.

The notion that the Republicans are in the majority in the Senate, and that the GOP have announced plans to act as if they are the ones currently in temporary charge of setting the Senateís agenda, seems to have caused some of the DNC staff to have completely lost any sense of proportion.

Portions of the text of the DNCís most recent urgent email to some of us on the D side helps illustrate how remarkably frantic these folks have become:

Senate Republicans are going for the ultimate power grab. They're going to give themselves absolute power, silencing Senate Democrats (and the millions of Americans they represent) by changing the rules and traditions of the Senate.

Iíll bet Senator Frist and the rest of the GOP leadership really donít appreciate the awesome, near-total dictatorial authority over America that comes from having a Republican majority in the Senate. Frankly, it makes me wonder why former Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) didnít act like he and his fellow Democrats had similar powers when they possessed the same voting majority.

The whole Republican agenda will become the law of the land because the GOP will have silenced all effective opposition.

Oh, really? Did the DNC really mean to say that Senators Joe Biden and Tom Carper should just not bother riding the train to DC every day from Delaware? Have the First State's Democratic senators been completely disenfranchised?

With all due respect, I donít think so.

The DNCís outsized outrage over a change in Senate filibuster rules concerning judicial nominations seems just a tad misplaced.

Might it not be a better idea to consider what it would take to win enough seats in the Senate to restore a Democratic majority? Wouldnít a Democratís time be better spent trying to figure out what the Party should change about itself and its policy choices in order to escape from its current minority status? Donít these folks ever keep in mind that in this and in all other human endeavors, nothing is permanent?


Iím not at all suggesting that the Senate Democrats just roll over and let the GOP have its way in this or in any other political dispute. On the other hand, this kind of message is so over the top that it carries no persuasive force for the moderate elements in the party.

These DNC bulletins are just preaching to a deep blue choir--and they donít really help.

April 4, 2005
Paper Clips

Tonight we went to see a great little documentary at the Movies at Midway.

Paper Clips is about a middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee. The staff decided to begin a project that would help their mostly white, entirely Protestant young teens learn about the Holocaust. Someone hit upon the idea of using paper clips to represent each victim of Hitler's tyranny, and the scheme mushroomed well beyond the teachers' initial modest hopes.

I'm also pleased that the film came here as part of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society's Independent Focus Series, with the helpful cooperation of the theater management.

April 3, 2005
Situational political ethics

Senator Ted Kennedy and several other folks on the left side of the aisle previously announced that they aren't too keen on the President's use of his power to make recess appointments.

They've even gone so far as to challenge the constitutionality of these appointments in legal proceedings relating to one such appointee, U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor.

I wonder if Senator Kennedy and his allies will maintain that heightened sense of outrage about the President's most recent exercise of this authority, as described in the Washington Post:

Just before Congress returned from a two-week recess, President Bush on Friday night used his recess-appointment power to thwart an effort by Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to stall the work of a military base-closing commission.

If the liberals actually do make a fuss about these new appointments, I'd be more than happy to give them credit for political consistency. Besides, it would be interesting to see Senators Lott and Kennedy arm-in-arms on this subject. Politics and strange bedfellows, and all that.

Nonetheless, I have the impression that I won't be praising Senator Kennedy for his constancy on this issue anytime soon.

April 2, 2005
Shameless self-promotion

I posted my most recent golf book review this morning.

The Search for the Perfect Golf Club is a well-written primer on the art and science of clubmaking and fitting, both for the professionals and for the millions of amateurs who could really use the help.

The book also inspired the topic of this week's golf column, The Triumph of Hope over Reality.

You might like both pieces.

March 31, 2005
Messing up the average

Yesterday the Census Bureau announced the results of its recurring survey of how much time Americans spend commuting to work. I can't say I'm surprised by the data:

Americans spend more than 100 hours commuting to work each year, according to American Community Survey (ACS) data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. This exceeds the two weeks of vacation time (80 hours) frequently taken by workers over the course of a year. For the nation as a whole, the average daily commute to work lasted about 24.3 minutes in 2003.

Most of Delaware's commuters spend a bit less time schlepping to work than the national average, at 22.5 minutes.

That's about half the time I take to commute the 40 miles or so from home to my office in the state capital, but I'm certainly not blaming anyone. The trade-off in time from work in return for living in the Rehoboth Beach area is usually well worth it.

On some occasions my commuting time is quite a bit shorter than normal, thanks to the occasional state trooper heading the same way.

If I stay back about a quarter-mile, and maintain that distance between the trooper's Ford and my Mazda, I can cut at least five to ten minutes off the normal 45 minutes or so.

The troopers don't seem to mind, and I don't either.

March 29, 2005
Watch Ďem go

A New York Court of Appeals decision issued today suggests that the Empire State taxing authorities are more interested in immediate gains than in avoiding the long-term problems caused by being so short-sighted.

Thomas Huckaby, a Tennessee resident, spent about 25% of his work year in New York for his full-time job for a labor organization. He spent the rest of his work-year at his home office, writing software and performing other tasks.

Under most conditions, the tax consequences of this part-year residency would be fairly simple. Most states permit splitting the income based on where the employee earned his salary, with both states receiving their pro rata share of income taxes, if any. 

Unfortunately, the New York State income tax code is far greedier, tapping the telecommuter based on 100% of income, no matter where he worked to earn the money. The stateís highest court upheld this odd, fundamentally unfair arrangement in a 4-3 decision, based largely on the legal fiction that telecommuting was primarily a matter of convenience for Huckaby. In my view the dissentís position made far more sense, and not simply because it also makes for better tax policy. 

The majority's sole ground for holding that Huckaby's income is "New York source income" is that the Commissioner says it is. The majority says that the Legislature "recognized the complexities" of taxing those who work both within and outside the State Ö, and "task[ed] the Commissioner to develop a workable rule" Ö. No doubt. But the Commissioner's rule is still supposed to make sense [citation omitted]. As applied to Huckaby, the Commissioner's convenience rule does not make sense.***

Since state income taxes on nonresidents were first upheld in Shaffer v Carter (252 US 37 [1920]), such taxes have been levied on income derived either from work done within the state, or from property located in, or sent into, the state. I am aware of no case in which it has been held, or even argued, that an in-state source of payment for services done outside the state is a constitutionally valid basis for taxing the recipient of the payment. Nor am I aware of any state statute Ė other than New York's Tax Law as interpreted by the majority in today's decision -- that attempts to levy nonresident income tax on this basis.

The majority opinion recognized the potential fallout from its decision, but made it anyway:

Petitioner criticizes the convenience test as unfair and unsound as a matter of tax policy and a discouragement to telecommuting. Maybe so. We do not view it as our role, however, to upset the Legislature's and the Commissioner's considered judgments so long as the convenience test has been constitutionally applied in this case.

If this statement is intended to act as a warning signal to the New York General Assembly to alter its tax code, itís carrying pretty low wattage.

As noted in an earlier post, the more powerful signal that New Yorkís elected representatives will certainly recognize will be the continued exodus of businesses from the state to exotic locales such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and even the friendly financial climes of Delaware. 

Thereís simply no compelling reason for many thriving businesses to remain in New York in the presence of far more attractive locations. The relative tax burden of Northeast states is a frequently-cited explanation for the mass exodus from points north of the Statue of Liberty. This tax decision will only speed up the demographic shift of talent and enterprise.

Just watch Ďem go. 

Hat tip: Howard Bashman

March 28, 2005
Revenue Sharing II

The News-Journal ran a supportive editorial today about the City of Wilmington's continuing efforts to gain financial assistance from the State of Delaware.

It looks like the writer of this piece reads this blog, if only because of the similarity between a suggestion I made in a March 14 post and what today's editorial proffered as a way to help the troubled city.

Here's what I wrote then:

In the meantime, some folks might consider whether a version of the municipal street aid revenue-sharing model would be a handy way to distribute cash to the cities. For example, it wouldnít be all that difficult to work up a formula that based the payments on a combination of population data and the percentage of city properties exempt from property tax. Wilmington would still be the prime beneficiary for any such revenue, but several other troubled communities throughout the state would also benefit from this approach.

Here's what the News-Journal published today:

Wilmington desperately needs a new, dependable revenue source. That can only be found with the help of the General Assembly, which doesn't have a history of friendliness toward the city. The Legislature responds but often grudgingly. This unfortunate attitude should change.***

The city must provide a wide range of services. But about 42 percent of property in Wilmington is tax-exempt because it is owned by government or non-profit organizations.

Initial legislative reaction was not particularly favorable. What will it take short of a complete breakdown to show legislators that an attractive, thriving Wilmington is an asset to all of Delaware?

I've had a conversation or two with some of those legislators about this issue. Based on those conversations, the editorial's pessimistic assessment of the General Assembly's attitude toward Wilmington strikes me as a bit dramatic. On the other hand, it also seems to me that the City's supporters will have to broaden the base of potential recipients of the State's largesse in order to have some of it go to help Wilmington.

For example, the tiny village of Ellendale, in Sussex County, is heavily dependent on traffic fines to meet its budget. The local property tax base is made up largely of very modest homes, whose property values are just over half the national average. To add to the town's revenue difficulties, within its borders sits a sizeable piece of non-taxed acreage, a former school now used as one of the state's detoxification centers. None of these facts are lost on Sussex County's state representatives and senators.

In several respects, Ellendale's revenue problems mirror Wilmington's, but in miniature. There are similar stories to be told about several other towns and cities across the state.

Wilmington should reach out to The Delaware League of Local Governments to build up support for additional revenue sharing for all 57 municipalities. Under any sane approach, Wilmington would still receive the lion's share of the proceeds.

It might also help if the News-Journal editorial writers didn't act as if Wilmington was the only Delaware city that could really use a hand from the state government.

March 27, 2005
The Manolo, he would be so proud

Last week I covered the opening golf match of our local high school team, a golf column tradition since its inception.

The kids are fun to watch, and there's usually a surprise or two during each season.

On this occasion, for example, I saw something that I have never before witnessed in any high school golf tournament. It would have made The Manolo so proud.

You can see it for yourself, right here.


Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2005