Crystal ball

Insights peers deeply into Colorado's crystal ball for 2020, and predicts what won't happen in the 12 months ahead.

I’m not looking on the dark side of the legislature when I think about what won’t happen in the 2020 session.

After lawmakers gavel in on Jan. 8, the subsequent four months will be the continuation of the sea change brought on by emboldened Democrats in the House and Senate. They have a progressive kindred spirit in the governor's office, Jared Polis, a man with a wide libertarian streak, nonetheless. But will the waves crash ashore or roll in gentle like a blue bayou? I say the latter.

In his second State of the State, Polis, I’m betting, will talk about staying the course on cheaper health care, early childhood education, green energy and a Colorado that's big enough for everyone.

Those are his cards. He never leaves home without them. Polis might make a “Star Wars” joke. I’m betting on that.

Here’s what I’m betting he won’t talk about:

New digs at drilling. Democrats got in their big licks on climate change, electric vehicles and new rules on oil and gas development in 2019. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "There are no second acts in American lives." The legislature had their chance to get it right this past session, and now it's time to sort out all that. Don't expect more bombshells from the left. Noisemakers and sparklers, however, are an annual tradition.

Colorado's sorry state of major college football. The Buffs, the Rams and the Bad News Bears of Greeley, collectively, went 11-25 this season. That taste in your mouth, Colorado, is humiliation. Air Force is 11-2 with a win over Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl (that's really a thing), and thank goodness for the Orediggers and Thunderwolves. The School of Mines was golden, 12-1, and CSU-Pueblo finished 11-2, including a loss to the 'Diggers.

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Big dreams on transportation. I had breakfast with state highway director Shoshana Lew at Racine’s restaurant recently. I didn't waste time before I brought it up: What's the shape of the new state transportation plan? The official roadmap to where Polis wants to take Colorado is coming in the early spring, she told me.

This is a very big deal. Polis looks strong as a two-term governor, given the political trade winds. That means what he does has long legs, including the difference between more highway lanes or more mass transit.

With the Denver's Regional Transportation District weathering another bumpy ride, now isn't the time to roll out a hasty plan into that public relations jam. Transit, beyond the normal new bike lanes and bus routes, can sit a year.

Lew tells me that what she heard on a summer-long listening tour was that Coloradans want fixes for the problems that are out there — crowded roads, potholes, bridge repairs — before investing in big, aspirational projects. That means spending stays focused on major highway projects that ferry most of the state’s traffic, but it also means finding solutions in rural communities, where state highways are an economic lifeline, Lew said.

So no train in 2020, even though a big ticket like that takes a lot of time and politicking, even for a two-term governor.

A GOP beat-down. Democrats have their hands full taking on U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner by keeping the heat on President Trump. Why pick partisan battles in the statehouse against an outvoted Republican minority? Conversely, I expect the Republicans to kick the shins and try to back the majority into a corner at every turn. Over lunch with Senate Republican leader Chris Holbert, I asked if his caucus would pull procedural shenanigans to slow down Democrats. He hoped not, he said, but when you only have one hand to play as the minority party, you play that hand.

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Rural Colorado in crisis. Every year lawmakers talk about it, but it's time for them to put up or shut up on dire rural issues — education, transportation, mental health and funding the water plan for agriculture.

I get it. There are hardly any votes out there on the plains and up along the mountain canyons, but these enclaves make Colorado, well, Colorado.

Agriculture is still a $700 million business in this state, but that's down from $1.9 billion in 2010. 

When the state Department of Agriculture presented its draft budget to the legislature last year, it included an odd caveat, a pledge to partner up to "proactively provide mental health information to rural communities in the hope of preventing tragedies and suicides related to a dip in the ag economy."

When you start seeing that in budget requests, it's time to pay attention.

Budget-busters. Colorado's economy shows no sign of slowing down, an analyst told the authors of next year's state budget before Christmas. Other than a $100 million drop in the quarterly forecast from September — oh, that — the good times are still rolling in Colorado. Nonetheless, Polis has promised plenty: full-day kindergarten with more early childhood assistance, cheaper health care and some form of a costly paid family leave proposal. Those are the cards on the table, and Polis doesn't have a lot of chips left to slide to the middle.

I'm boldly predicting all this and more won't happen in 2020.

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