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‘Are we crazy?’ Nunziata asks about debate on new taxes for transit

This Metrolinx-TTC rendering shows LRT cars passing on Eglinton LRT line.

A city council debate on ways to pay for transit expansion stretched into a day-long discussion dominated by the benefits of specific projects and the wisdom of giving the province permission to raise taxes – a notion one councillor called "crazy."

The debate, put on the agenda with the support of two-thirds of council over the objections of Mayor Rob Ford, played out to a half-empty council chamber for large parts of the day and lasted into the evening, when attention began to stray to the National Hockey League playoffs. At one point, a back and forth on transit priorities was interrupted by a jubilant mayor, who entered the council chamber pumping his fist after the Leafs' game-opening goal.

While a group of councillors tried to make a subway extension into Scarborough part of the debate, others warned that to do so would jeopardize the city's $8.4-billion deal with the province to build a network of light rail lines.

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Their bid to make a Scarborough subway part of the debate hit a roadblock early in the day when city manager Joe Pennachetti pointed out that the support of two-thirds of council was required to reopen the city's deal with Metrolinx. He also said the provincial transit agency has indicated the city would "be on the hook" for any costs involved in changes such as a switch to a subway extension from the existing plan for light rail to replace the Scarborough Rapid Transit line. "It's millions of dollars," he said of planning work that has already been done.

TTC chief executive Andy Byford also cautioned that changes to plans would "inevitably" lead to delays.

A vote on whether the subway proposal can be considered will be addressed when the transit debate continues on Thursday.

On the topic of new sources of revenue, the mayor took time during a lunchtime event to again voice his objection to all the options put forward by the province's Metrolinx transit agency to finance the remainder of its Big Move plan.

"I don't want any taxes. We don't need any taxes," Mr. Ford told reporters. "Like I said, there's enough money in government to pay for these subways."

Other councillors in the mayor's camp warned that "revenue tools" is a code word the province is using to raise taxes. "Are we crazy? We're crazy," councillor Frances Nunziata said about the willingness of her council colleagues even to discuss the matter.

Rather than support new sources of revenue, councillor Peter Milczyn proposed a no-go list of "revenue tools" council should not support, including highway tolls and road pricing, a congestion levy and increasing transit fares.

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Councillor Josh Matlow, who urged councillors not to take on the controversial topic of specific transit projects as part of the debate, endorsed a report by staff that recommended development charges, a fuel tax, parking levy and sales tax to fund transit.

Councillor Janet Davis proposed using a sales taxes and corporate tax to finance transit.

Metrolinx will make recommendations to the province at the end of the month on what new sources of revenue should be used. Toronto councillors, led by TTC chair Karen Stintz, forced the transit debate onto this week's council agenda after the mayor's executive committee delayed the discussion until after the deadline for the Metrolinx report.

With a report from Sunny Dhillon

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