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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Cuomo says health commish is resigning over pay, not fracking pressure

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is blaming low government salaries for the departure of his health commissioner who has been pressured for years over his lack of a recommendation on whether New York should allow drilling for natural gas.

Cuomo told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle editorial board on Thursday that Dr. Nirav Shah’s departure is because “salaries are a real problem in state government.”

 “You know, you want one of the best health professionals in the country as the health commissioner. You don’t get that for $130,000,” Cuomo said of Shah, who has held the job since 2011. “You just don’t. And then you tell the person, ‘Work seven days a week and you can’t have any other outside income,’ and people can only do it for a period of time.”

Cuomo denied Shah resigned because of the pressure to recommend whether the state approve hydrofracking for natural gas in the upstate Marcellus Shale deposit.

Cuomo has tried to make Shah the focal point of the politically dicey decision. Cuomo has repeatedly said he is awaiting Shah’s recommendation before deciding on the issue.

In March 2013, Shah told reporters at a Cuomo news conference that his decision was weeks away.

Environmental groups say the so-called fracking process that injects chemicals into the shale to extract the gas is a threat to public health. Business groups say drilling will bring a long needed economic boost in the Southern Tier and Central New York. They cite some studies and Democratic President Barack Obama’s urging which contend the process is safely done in more than two dozen states.

On Wednesday, Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino said Shah should also be replaced in part because he has done the “political bidding” of Cuomo by delaying a recommendation on gas drilling for four years.

“Isn't the state health commissioner supposed to be New York's chief medical officer, not a political foil for Governor Cuomo?” Astorino said in his latest Internet video message.

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