CORNELIUS – Adjusted unemployment benefit timeframes, solving statewide debt and widening Interstate 77 were three major topics Rep. Charlie Jeter (R-District 92) discussed with local business leaders on March 22.

Jeter, a Huntersville resident and a four-term town commissioner, spoke for more than 90 minutes to a crowd of 20 during Focus Friday at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

House Bill 4, which will cut N.C. residents’ unemployment benefits period from 26 weeks to 20 effective July 1, was a primary topic during the morning event.

“The (statewide) business community had a $2.5 billion debt to the federal government with unemployment,” Jeter said. “House Bill 4 changed unemployment benefits. It changed the unemployment system and paid off our debt about three and a half years sooner than we would have with the status quo.

“It saved businesses in our state almost $980 million in fees they would’ve otherwise had to pay.”

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce President Bill Russell said the unemployment benefits plan should have a positive effect on area business owners, because the money they’ll save in paying unemployment can go to making new hires.

But the bill isn’t a fix-all plan for everybody.

“There are people who are legitimately trying to find a job (who are taking unemployment benefits),” Russell said, “but there are some people who are just coasting and aren’t really out there trying. There’s got to be a balance.”

Finding a balance in solving the area’s widening of I-77 from exit 23 to exit 36 is just as tough a process, Jeter said. The plan is to have drivers pay a toll for a faster, more convenient lane so as to avoid gridlock. The lane will be funded through the private sector, which has concerned residents with how the profit from the new lanes will be distributed. Those in attendance listened intently to Jeter's thoughts.

“This is probably the model we’re going to use statewide,” Jeter said. “I do think it has flaws. You’re making a lot of improvements in the city of Charlotte that realistically are going to be paid for solely by the people that live up here.”

Jeter was also asked about state funding for stadium renovations for the NFL's Carolina Panthers. He suggested the City of Charlotte cover the cost. Those in attendance agreed.

As for the lane-widening project, Russell said it shouldn’t adversely affect business owners.

“It’s a user system,” he said. “If you’re not in the toll lane, you’re not paying. What better example of a user fee than a managed lane?”