Next stop for the bill to overhaul the state's unemployment system: The desk of Gov. Pat McCrory.
On Wednesday the state Senate gave final approval to the bill by a 36-12 vote. Republican senators unanimously voted for the bill along with four Democrats: Ben Clark of Cumberland County, Clark Jenkins of Bertie County, Gene McLaurin of Anson County and Michael Walters of Columbus County.
The House approved the measure last week, and Gov. Pat McCrory has made clear that he intends to sign the bill into law.
The bill would cut the amount of benefits that unemployed workers receive — maximum benefits would be reduced by one-third — and reduce the number of weeks they're eligible to receive them as of July 1. It also would raise state unemployment taxes paid by businesses and and expand the pool of employers that pay into the state unemployment trust fund.
The bottom-line goal is to accelerate repayment of $2.5 billion the state has borrowed from the federal government to cover the first 26 weeks of jobless benefits since the recession sent the unemployment rate soaring. That debt has triggered higher federal unemployment taxes for businesses, which are rising at a rate of $21 per employee each year until the debt is erased.
The bill was passed Wednesday after little debate.
Sen. Josh Stein, a Wake Democrat, bemoaned that the bill was weighted against the unemployed and that a series of amendments offered by Democrats to counteract that went nowhere.
"A problem like this requires a balanced approach," he said. "What I regret is, this is not a balanced bill."
Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Buncombe Republican, said he resented the characterization of Republicans as uncaring about the plight of the unemployed — or that Republicans think that unemployed workers don't want a job.
"We believe that everyone wants to work," Apodaca said. "To say that we don't about people is totally false and wrong."
But, he added, job creation is being hurt by the current situation because businesses considering relocating to North Carolina are concerned that the state's debt has pushed federal unemployment taxes higher than surrounding states.
Staff writer David Ranii