The Kansas economy is humming better than it has in more than a decade. Kansans' perception of why that is could go a long way toward deciding the governor's race.
The economic expansion began almost immediately after the state Legislature, in May 2017, repealed the aggressive tax cuts imposed by then Gov. Sam Brownback. The question for voters is whether reversing the tax cuts triggered the current expansion or if the expansion was the result of the tax cuts finally kicking in, as Brownback always argued they would.
State Sen. Laura Kelly, the Democratic nominee for governor, is a harsh critic of the Brownback administration and voted to repeal Brownback's tax cuts. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the Republican nominee for governor, has said he would fight to restore the Brownback tax policies.
The wild card is Independent Greg Orman, a Johnson County businessman, who could serve as a spoiler on the issue of the economy.
Right now, the candidates will have a tough time arguing that the economy is hurting. Jobs and wages are up and unemployment is down. State tax receipts are on a record streak.
On Friday, the Kansas Department of Labor reported that the state's economy recorded its 14th consecutive month of job growth in July. The state's unemployment rate was 3.4 percent, down from 3.6 percent in July 2017. More importantly, average nominal earnings rose 4.3 percent, to $24.15 per hour, compared with July 2017.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, Kansas gained 23,400 nonfarm jobs overall from June to July, including 20,900 private-sector jobs. The 2.4 percent increase in private-sector employment, is higher than the national growth rate of 2.1 percent.
The state's total nonfarm employment is slightly less than 1.27 million, the highest ever recorded.
Also in July, Kansas collected $11 million more in taxes than anticipated. It was the 14th consecutive month that tax collections have been better than forecast. The Associated Press reported that the state hasn't seen a streak that long since at least February 1968. The state ended its 2018 budget year on June 30 with more than $7 billion in tax collections and exceeded expectations by $318 million, 4.7 percent more than anticipated.
The Kansas economy is on a roll right now, something that the state's gubernatorial candidates and voters ought to keep in mind as the election heats up.