The fiscal cliff deal in Washington creates "more urgency" to revamp the state's unemployment benefit system, said Lew Ebert, the president of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce.
The legislation extended unemployment benefits through 2013 at the same time Republican lawmakers in North Carolina are trying to curtail the checks to jobless workers. Ebert said businesses that pay unemployment taxes can't afford another extenstion.
"It's the most immediate challenge to job creation," Ebert said at the chamber's economic forecast forum Wednesday. He stopped short of calling on Gov.-elect Pat McCrory to reject possible additional federal loans for benefits, as other governors have done in the past.
Ebert ranks the unemployment tax issue higher on the list of importance than broader changes to the tax code. And he struck a cautious, if not pessimistic tone about whether McCrory and the GOP legislature will deliver on their big campaign promise. "The idea of dramatically changing the tax code and making the budget work is going to be difficult," he said, mentioning current holes in the state budget for Medicare and Medicaid services.