Kansas Labor Secretary Jim Garner on Friday touted the successes of the state economy under his boss Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, but Republican challenger Jim Barnett said the state was falling behind.
"Unemployment is down, jobs and wages are up and state revenues are increasing," Garner said during his annual state of labor address. "In short, we have come a long way."
Garner said that when Sebelius became governor in January 2003, the state was reeling from the economic aftershocks of the 9-11 terrorist attack, which threw the nation into recession and severely reduced Kansas' crucial aircraft manufacturing industry in Wichita.
During Sebelius' first week in office a record 47,000 jobless claims were filed in Kansas, Garner said. Now more than 1.4 million Kansans are working, nearly 76,000 more than in January 2003, he said.
Average annual wages have increased since 2003 from $31,485 to $33,844. The unemployment rate during the past year has averaged 4.7 percent.
But Barnett, a Republican from Emporia, said the Kansas economy was falling behind the growth rate of the rest of the nation and neighboring states.
"Statistically, job growth has been one-half of our neighboring states during Gov. Sebelius' term," Barnett said. "That has to be addressed for us to be able to afford to pay for schools, highways and regents institutions."
But Garner said a comprehensive measure of states' economies - a U.S. Department of Commerce report on gross state product - showed that Kansas was doing well.
The last report on gross state product, which measures the market value of all goods and services produced within a state, was issued in June and covered 2005. Kansas' gross state product grew 4 percent compared with 3.5 percent for the national average.
Of neighboring states, only Colorado's gross state product increase was higher, at 4.2 percent. Other increases: Oklahoma, 2.9 percent; Missouri, 2.2 percent; and Nebraska, 1.7 percent.