A hotly anticipated decision on fracking won't come before New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stands for re-election. Same for an announcement of higher tolls on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.
Thanks to either serendipity or Cuomo's dexterity, each decision is off the table, pushed back until after the election.
Now it appears likely that another politically charged decision — the selection of sites for four upstate casinos — will also come after voters go to the polls on Nov. 4.
Cuomo argues that he isn't delaying the decisions for political reasons. The study on the health effects of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, begun in 2012, needs more work. Tolls on the new $3.9 billion Tappan Zee Bridge won't be known until the financing is complete. As for casinos, that's the decision of a state commission.
"They are handling that," Cuomo said Wednesday, in response to questions from reporters about the casino decision. "I'm not playing a role in it."
For observers of the famously controlling governor, however, the delays appear designed to avoid three decisions that are bound to upset voters around the state even as Cuomo seeks a second term.
"I'm shocked, shocked that a politician would allow politics to enter into things during an election year," quipped Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at SUNY Cortland. "Fracking is a good example. He's been under a lot of criticism for delaying, but the political cost of kicking the can down the road is understandable. The cost of making a decision is harder to see right now."
To frack or...
The fracking study was started two years ago, and early estimates suggested a recommendation to Cuomo on whether or not to allow hydraulic fracturing would be made in early 2013. In May of 2013 Cuomo himself said he would make a decision before the 2014 election. Now, a decision on whether to lift the state's 2008 fracking moratorium is expected sometime in 2015.
A decision to allow fracking would delight many in the state's economically distressed Southern Tier, but would upset environmentalists and others opposed to the drilling. Polls show New Yorkers are evenly split on the issue — meaning about half of the state will oppose whatever Cuomo does.
"I'm awaiting the report," Cuomo said this past week. "It's a highly politicized, highly emotional, highly opinionated topic. I am relying on substantive experts in my administration who don't bring any bias."
A political toll
Cuomo's administration has refused to provide estimates for tolls on the new Tappan Zee even though construction has been underway for a year. Figures of $9 and as high as $14 have been mentioned. The toll on the existing bridge is $5. Cuomo promised to create a task force to study the toll issue in 2012. Last week he said the task force would be appointed next year.
Rockland County Executive Ed Day wrote to Cuomo in February expressing his concerns about the delay in announcing the tolls. He said he got no response.
"We have to have clarity on this," Day said. "I find it hard to believe that an organization like the state of New York would embark upon a project of this magnitude and not have a sense of how it's going to be paid for."
Tails you win, tails you lose
As for casinos, a panel whose members have close ties to Cuomo is now reviewing 16 proposals from developers. Up to four will be selected. While supporters of the winning projects will be elated, opponents and backers of the 12 rejected casino proposals may blame Cuomo, who controls the state's Gaming Commission.
Cuomo said in January he wanted a decision on the casinos by "early fall." Now, the panel says it hopes to make its recommendations in late October but that more time may be needed. A final decision by the Gaming Commission is likely to take even longer.
The political equation
Cuomo's Republican opponent this fall, Westchester County executive Rob Astorino, has criticized Cuomo for the delays on fracking and tolls, saying he's placing his own self-interest over important public policy decisions.
"This administration stalls and stalls and stalls," Astorino told the New York State Business Council last month. "Enough of re-election comes first, good governance second."
Polls show Astorino trailing Cuomo by double digits, and Cuomo has a commanding fundraising lead as well. Columbia University political science professor Robert Shapiro said Cuomo may want to wait until after a big re-election victory to use up political capital on controversial decisions.
Until then, tough calls on fracking, casinos and tolls don't help.
"It makes a big difference if he starts his next term having won by big margins," Shapiro said. "He's not worried about losing. He's worried about not winning big."