A new campaign ad in the North Dakota Senate race claims Republican contender Kevin Cramer gave himself a five-figure raise as a public official.
"Could you give yourself a $23,000 raise?" the ad voiceover says. "Ask Kevin Cramer. On the Public Service Commission, he raised his pay to over $93,650."
Cramer did get raises totalling that amount. But the ad completely distorts Cramer’s hand in securing the pay increase.
The Public Service Commission has three commissioners who are elected to six-year terms. They regulate utilities, pipeline safety, telecommunications, railroads and other state services.
Cramer joined the commission in August 2003. He served until the end of 2012, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Commissioners’ salaries usually originate from the governor’s office, which works with the Office of Management and Budget to determine how much money is available for public officials, according to Jeff Larshus, director of state financial services at the OMB.
The governor then submits a budget to the Legislative Assembly, which writes the salaries into statute and votes on their approval.
So saying Cramer raised his own salary ignores the arbiter of that salary.
The OMB proposed and received across the board salary hikes for elected officials every year between 2005 and 2012. These include the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, superintendent for public instruction, state auditor, state treasurer, and the tax, insurance, public service and agriculture commissioners.
In 2005, they all got a 4 percent hike from their last salary number, determined in 2002. They got three more 4 percent hikes in 2006, 2007, and 2008, a 5 percent increase in 2009, another 5 percent increase in 2010, and then 3 percent in 2011 and again in 2012. While their salaries all differ, the percentage increases were equal across the board.
That’s how Cramer’s salary jumped from $69,874 to $95,611 from the time he was elected to the time he left office — a $25,737 increase.
"So did it go up considerably during that time frame?" Larshus said. "Yes. But it wasn’t because the commissioner asked for the salary."
Commissioners submit a budget to the OMB every two years. There, they can suggest compensation for commissioners. But staff at the Public Service Commission and at the OMB said they could not recall an instance in which they had requested salary bumps for commissioners.
The OMB had three of the four budget requests during which Cramer served and got salary hikes on file. Only one asked for equity funds to raise administrative staff salaries. But that does not include the commissioners, according to Jill Kringstad, Accounting Budget Specialist. She could not recall any instances where commissioners' salary increases were included in budget requests.
The bottom line is that the legislative assembly needs to approve, write into law and vote on any proposed salaries for elected officials proposed by the OMB. These salary changes were all ultimately set by the legislature.
Heitkamp’s office said Cramer could have refused to accept the raises or requested lower salary numbers to the OMB. The current governor had to change a North Dakota statute in order to fulfill his campaign promise to refuse pay.
Heitkamp said, "Could you give yourself a $23,000 raise? Ask Kevin Cramer. On the public service Commission, he raised his pay to over $93,650."
Cramer’s salary increased by $25,737 during his tenure on the Public Service Commission. But he didn’t give himself that raise. The governor proposed it, the OMB drafted it, and the legislative assembly voted on its passage. The other 12 elected officials in North Dakota received the same percentage salary bump.
We rate this statement False.