From Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte Chamber:
The federal-state Unemployment Insurance (UI) system was established in 1935 as a safeguard for individuals against distress for a short period of time after they become unemployed. Today, North Carolinas UI system is facing a $2.4 billion debt crisis and is failing those who have lost their job at no fault of their own. This has been categorized as North Carolinas own fiscal cliff. The business community recognizes the need for a comprehensive solution to return North Carolinas UI Trust Fund to a position of solvency and strength for the future.
When the Trust Fund was solvent in good economic times, there was a reduction in UI taxes while at the same time benefits were being expanded. The combination of these factors resulted in an unsustainable system that was ultimately not prepared for the severity of the recession.
Neither the tax rates nor the benefit structure single-handedly led to the debt crisis and, similarly, fixing just one of these factors is not a viable solution to creating a solvent and effective UI system for the future. In order to fix this problem, everyone will have to share in the pain.
The responsibility to repay this debt falls squarely on N.C. employers, as they are the only taxpayers paying into the fund. Employees do not pay UI taxes. Under current federal guidelines, and given the states outstanding loan balance, N.C. employers will repay approximately $2.4 billion in principal and more than $500 million in interest from 2011 to 2019 to extinguish the states loan. This translates into a tax increase on every job from $63 to $84 per employee, and will continue to rise annually until the debt is paid. Making N.C. jobs cost more, especially at a time our unemployment rate is higher than the national average, is certainly not an ideal solution for this serious problem. It is a necessary part of the solution. Regrettably, benefits to employees will have to be a part of that solution as well. In order to pay off the debt, the revenues must be increased and the costs decreased.
While tax adjustments are an appropriate part of a comprehensive solution, it would be irresponsible not to address the problem as a whole, which includes ensuring that employer investments into the fund are managed efficiently and inserting accountability measures into the system. The most integral piece of the solution is that we must be able to shift the focus of the system from unemployment to reemployment. The system should improve alignment of workforce training and education programs through streamlined and increased use of technology among agencies. A robust worker retraining and placement program is essential to establishing and maintaining a stable UI trust fund.
Ultimately, the Charlotte Chamber is advocating for balanced recommendations that address all parts of the UI system. Anything less than making the comprehensive reforms will only produce marginal results. We are fully committed to working toward a comprehensive plan that solves our UI crisis and protects the jobs we have, as well as our ability to create and attract more jobs in order to get our community back to work.
For The Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writers, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.
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