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‘Recession’ comes up in discussion over Sound Transit funding

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. (Sound Transit live feed)

Sound Transit faces looming cuts from the federal government, which threatens projects already slated for construction. But just how dire the transit agency’s situation is may have been best illustrated when the word “recession” was dropped during its Thursday board meeting.

Related: Sound Transit CEO was optimistic federal funding wouldn’t be cut

While discussing the impacts of President Trump’s proposed budget on the agency’s current and future work, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff referenced the Great Recession, which was considered the largest downturn in the economy since the Great Depression. The recession had significant impacts on Sound Transit.

Rogoff said losing the federal funding would require the agency to look at the financial picture to see what’s going to be delayed or deferred.

A Sound Transit recession

Sound Transit is currently counting on approximately $7.7 billion in funding from the feds to finish its current projects. That makes up about 13 percent of its total budget.

But if that funding is cut, Rogoff hinted that the agency could, again, have the tough job of telling taxpayers that at least some of the projects it promised could see delays. That would be especially true for projects that will be funded under the approved Sound Transit 3 tax package, which promises light rail from Everett to Tacoma; over to Bellevue and Redmond; and more lines throughout Seattle.

To put things into perspective, with an example of how quickly plans can change: voters approved a parking garage for light rail riders in Kent in 2008. That project was suspended because of the recession. Funding for the project was finally restored in 2016.

And the Great Recession may turn out to be less impactful on Sound Transit than the Trump administration.

In October of 2009, The Seattle Times reported the agency would collect $3.1 billion less in taxes over 15 years because of the recession. In August of 2010, that grew to the agency collecting $3.9 billion less.

In the agency’s 2016 financial plan, a summary points out that, “Although the ‘Great Recession’ has ended, its impact on the agency continues as long range tax revenues are currently estimated at $4.1 billion, or 26 percent, below the 15-year financial forecast included in the 2008 voter-approved plan.”

Sound Transit is now hoping that Congress will fall on the side of public transportation and keep the president from cutting its funding. Otherwise, it might be the children of the taxpayers within the agency’s district that will look forward to expanded light rail.

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