ALBANY -- It's a good year for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators to run for re-election -- by design.
Thanks to them, millions of voters will get "tax rebate checks" in the mail this fall. That will be followed by notices of how much they will save in school taxes in a freeze on local property taxes subsidized by state funds.
Within the next two weeks, Cuomo will present a new effort to connect New York businesses with partners and consumers worldwide. The state's regional economic development program that awards millions of dollars in grants throughout the state has also been accelerated, though a ceremony to announce them that was being considered before Election Day is now scheduled for after Election Day.
What New Yorkers won't see is a vote that had been due this year on extending more than $2 billion in temporary tax increases. That's because lawmakers approved it last year, a year early. Voters also won't likely see decisions on some major, politically dicey issues such as drilling for natural gas upstate or where Las Vegas-style casinos will be built.
And even local issues such as the development at Belmont racetrack are now expected to languish beyond Election Day, along with how much tolls will increase from the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project in the other critical suburbs for the governor's race, Westchester and Rockland.
"Every year, whoever is governor, they make the election year their best and put money aside in another year for it," said Maurice Carroll of the Quinnipiac University poll and a longtime political reporter. "It's called standard politics. The governor tries to make everything as nice as possible and minimize the distractions."
Political science professor Doug Muzzio of Baruch College agreed, but noted the practice can be "a concern when it is simply throwing money at voters with no policy or programmatic concerns or impacts. The state rebates? It's a waste of public capital in the pursuit of personal political ends . . . timing is everything."
The Cuomo administration denied politics is playing a role.
"Timing of governmental decisions are based on the merits and a deliberative process, not the political calendar," said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino doesn't buy it.
"I'm sure they play the 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town' music when he pulls up," Astorino said of Cuomo. "It's meant to hand out checks with the people's own money to buy off as many votes as he can . . . and it's all about hiding the bad news."
Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said it's not necessarily a bad thing for campaigns to perform actions that voters want. "The ultimate power of incumbency is in governing, in being able to command the vast resources of the state treasury to meet the needs of their constituents, who just happen to be voters," he said.
Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a good-government organization, said avoiding controversial decisions shortchanges the public. "We think the public has a right to know what public officials are going to do, particularly in the election season when they are asking for public support. The more controversial and politically radioactive the decision, the further it is from the election."
The State Legislature has made much of this possible. Incumbent legislators also have a stake in timing issues, in an even more compressed time frame because of their two-year terms, said Gerald Benjamin, distinguished professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz.
"These are short cycles, and drive politicians to seek or claim achievements within a short time frame, or postpone controversial actions to the least risky time," Benjamin said. "Watch out when the long and short cycles align."
Tax breaks made
The first $350 tax rebate checks are already in the mail. The checks approved a year ago will go to households with at least one child under 17 years old as of 2012, in households with income of $40,000 to $300,000.
Taxpayers also will learn how much they will save under the first year of the state's subsidy of about 2 percent of their local property taxes. Taxpayers will save an average of $656 over three years.
The Cuomo administration said the tax cuts aren't politically motivated but rather are part of a plan to force local governments and schools to make long-term spending cuts and consolidations to continue to lower taxes when the state subsidy ends.
The "Global NY Summit on World Trade and Investment" will be held within the next two weeks, Cuomo's spokesman confirmed Saturday. The Manhattan gala is expected to bring top business, political, federal and civic leaders together at the Jacob Javits Convention Center to market New York to the world. The program will include Cuomo's regional economic development councils of local leaders throughout the state and his incentive program that provides tax-free operation in New York for 10 years to lure certain high-tech employers.
The regional economic development program that provides hundreds of millions of dollars in grants each year has been accelerated and was being considered for a pre-Election Day ceremony, but Cuomo's spokesman said that event will now be held after Election Day.
Cuomo said he needs additional health studies before he will make a decision on drilling for natural gas in an upstate shale deposit. Polls show the fracking issue splits New Yorkers and is strongly opposed by environmentalists in the Democrat's voter base while supported by business interests among Cuomo's campaign donors. Cuomo recently ruled out making a decision on hydrofracking before Election Day.
In March 2013, Cuomo's health commissioner had said a decision was expected "within weeks."
A decision on the contentious Belmont redevelopment project, which could include a soccer stadium for the Cosmos pro team, was once scheduled for August 2013. Now Jason Conwall, spokesman for the Empire State Development Corp., said the complex decision needs more time for study.
And while Cuomo has used the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project he kick-started in 2012 as a frequent backdrop in recent news conferences, he has said he doesn't know how much tolls will increase as a result of it. There is no date for that announcement despite pleas from Westchester to Washington.
Cuomo told public radio's "Capitol Pressroom" recently that much work is needed before he will know what the toll increases will be. "You need to know the total cost of the bridge, which we don't know . . . and the general usage of the bridge, which we don't know either," Cuomo said.
Cuomo's plan to approve as many as four Las Vegas-type casinos upstate also has a fuzzy timetable. Several lengthy hearings show New Yorkers remain divided over the expansion of casino gambling as well as over where to build them.
"We anticipate being able to make some decisions in the month of October," siting board chairman Kevin Law said on Sept. 9 at one of many hearings.
"But we are not going to hold ourselves to any particular deadline," said Law, who is president of the Long Island Association business group. "We want to make sure we get the decision right as opposed to quickly."
The Cuomo administration said it is unsure whether the recommendations would be released before Election Day. Casino operators have been told a decision could be made in November.
Last week, Cuomo for the first time in state history postponed making a nomination to the state's highest court, despite the legal deadline Friday. Although Cuomo will still name his choice before Election Day, the delay avoids a potential Senate confirmation fight until after the election.
Tax votes avoided
As a candidate in 2010, Cuomo promised to end the "job-killing" income tax surcharge on top earners, and the utility tax paid by all residents and businesses.
Instead, he and the State Legislature extended the taxes twice in the past four years to bring in more than $2 billion a year to balance budgets and cover the cost of promised tax breaks. The latest extension was in the spring of last year, a year before the taxes were due to expire. But taking action last year meant no vote would be needed this election year.
The Cuomo administration said that wasn't a political consideration, but rather a fiscally prudent one to plan some budget items two years in advance.
"It's sort of Albany's playbook," Horner said of the practice of incumbents deciding what issues arise in election years. "The happy train arrives in November and the sad train arrives in December, after the elections."