2 state bills could affect minimum wage, student loan debt

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Friday morning on WMBF News Today, reporter Alex Holley previewed two bills pre-filed in the state senate that could have a major impact on our economy.

The first would raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour, or the wage set by the Fair Labor Standards Act. While fast food workers around the country are protesting the current minimum wage, small business owners that we talked to say they just can't afford it.

WMBF News talked to a local business owner who says when you have several employees, the extra amount can really add up by thousands at the end of the year. Then makes it everyone's problem.

"You've gotta figure out where all that money is going to come from," said Chris Walker, who owns multiple businesses in the Grand Strand. "That money always comes from an increase in prices, which goes back to the person that got the raise who is going to pay more for the products that they're purchasing."

Walker says the payroll is one of the biggest expenses for a business, and it can certainly break it. Right now, South Carolina does not have a minimum wage law, so the minimum wage is the federally-set $7.25 an hour. But Representative Cobb-Hunter's pre-filed bill calls to raise it to whatever is greater: either raising it to ten dollars or the minimum wage set by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Some say this comes at the right time, because workers all over the country are putting on the pressure with protests demanding to get paid more.

"We want more money," said a protestor at a fast food workers rally. "We want to be able to survive, we want a living wage, we deserve it. You know, we work hard, and we yet can't even afford a pair of Basics. And to me that's sad."

A $10 minimum wage equals more than $15,000 a year for a full-time employee. Many are divided on whether this will actually help or hurt the economy.

Another pre-filed bill would introduce "Palmetto Pay Forward, Pay Back Pilot Program", a pilot payback program for graduates dealing with student loan debt. Instead of paying tuition and fees, graduates could strike a deal with the institution, and have the university or state take a percentage of their salary.

More than half of college students take out loans to pay for school, which puts them behind before they even graduate. A South Carolina lawmaker is proposing the bill as a new solution to take care of this problem. State Representative Limehouse wrote that the South Carolina Assembly should immediately find alternative ways for students to graduate without the huge setback of debt. Students are graduating now on average with more than $25,000 in debt, many are saying this could hurt our future economy.

WMBF News talked to a CCU college student who thinks it is a great idea, especially since right now, students feel like there's not much they can do.

"They're just piling up every year because tuition is getting more expensive," said CCU student Lauren Larcara. "Which just means more and more money."

First lawmakers will have to pass the bill, and then it will have to be tested out. Under the bill, it calls for the Commission on Higher Education to submit a proposed pilot program to the general assembly by December of 2015.

South Carolina isn't the only state considering this new system, so are New Jersey and Ohio. Lawmakers will debate these bills once the session starts in January.

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