A Brooklyn assemblyman lays out a politically challenging position on the M.T.A.

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Long Island Railroad train. (Marc Flores, via flickr)
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Yesterday, Assemblyman James Brennan, Democrat of Brooklyn, announced the introduction of a bill that would allow New York State voters in 2013 to approve (or disapprove) $4.5 billion in new debt for statewide infrastructure.

The money would be divided up between city and non-city interests, with about $2 billion going to the M.T.A., and the rest going to pay for improvements for roads, bridges and airports.

Funding needs for the M.T.A., and the state’s roads and bridges, are typically organized in five-year cycles, and Brennan estimates that the state 2015-2019 five year cycle will have a shortfall greater than $10 billion.

This bonding act would cover about half of that.

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The M.T.A. could use the money, and this proposal, unlike the deal between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature to allow borrowing to pay for the M.T.A.'s capital plan, wouldn't set up a debt-trap for the authority, but would instead accrue to taxpayers throughout the state.

“It’s easy for me to be in favor of it,” said Gene Russianoff, of NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign. “It’s a way to ask the voters to come up with the bucks to fix the infrastructure, and the debt service would not accrue to the M.T.A.”

Nowithstanding the support such a measure would pick up from transit advocates, it is politically difficult. The Republican-controlled State Senate is dominated by a bloc of Long Island legislators who aren’t, as a rule, keen on funding the authority. Nor, for that matter, are legislators in the counties north of New York City.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has a mixed record on mass-transit funding. The deal he reached at the end of last month on transit allowed the M.T.A. to avoid some Republican-proposed cuts and continue with its capital plan, but he has yet to propose a way to increase dedicated revenue for the M.T.A. Last year, he agreed to a Senate-backed payroll-tax cut that reduced M.T.A.-dedicated revenue in exchange for support of other items on his agenda.

The last time New York State issued a bonding act was in 2005.