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What you need to know about Tim Kaine's Virginia economy ahead of VP debate

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, listens while Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign event at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Va.
Pete Marovich | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, listens while Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign event at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Va.

As voters size up the economic records of the vice presidential nominees, Democratic Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine has four years' worth of talking points as the commonwealth's former governor.

But the economy he presided over was starkly different than that of his Republican rival, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, with whom he will debate Tuesday night in Virginia.

Kaine was sworn in as Virginia's 70th governor in January 2006, just as the Great Recession was about to send the national economy in reverse and begin a wave of layoffs that left millions of workers sidelined.

Much of those cutbacks came in the private sector. Thanks in part to the state's heavy reliance on federal contracting and government employment, Virginia was largely spared the worst of the recession's economic pain.

To be sure, Virginia's economy didn't escape unscathed. When Kaine left office in January 2010, the state's jobless rate had soared to 7.4 percent — from 3.2 percent when he took office four years earlier. But that was still lower than the national average, which jumped from 4.7 percent in January 2006 to 10 percent nearly four years later.

Virginia's strong services sector has also helped maintain relatively strong wage growth; the state ranks just about in the middle in median annual salaries.

Like many states, Virginia also faces rising costs of pensions and health benefits for current and future retired state workers. But compared with other state governments, Virginia long-term liabilities and debt burden are relatively small.

On a per capita basis, Virginia residents are among the most heavily taxed in the nation, ranking 12th highest among the 50 states, according to the Tax Foundation. In 2012, the latest data available, Virginians paid $4,623 per person in state and local taxes.

But Virginia residents have one of the highest levels of income in the country, so as a share of overall state income the commonwealth ranks about average among the 50 states.