RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina's commissioner of agriculture said Wednesday that he will not suggest areas to cut his department's budget, despite Gov. Beverly Perdue's request that agencies pinpoint ways to trim spending.
Commissioner Steve Troxler said his agency operates efficiently and has seen a stagnant budget over the past decade. He argued that additional cuts would impede the work that the agency does, such as food safety inspections.
"We have cut, cut, cut, and we are to the point that further cuts are going to mean that the mandated things we do in this department can't be done like they need to be done," said Troxler, a Republican who is serving his second term in charge of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
He also said it would be impossible to identify areas to cut ahead of a possible state government reorganization.
"Identifying specific cuts right now is putting the cart before the horse," he said.
The agriculture department accounts for less than 1 percent of the state budget.
Perdue, a Democrat, has asked all agencies to lay out possible cuts of 5, 10 and 15 percent to help budget writers prepare for a statewide deficit that could reach $3 billion. Perdue spokesman Chrissy Pearson said Troxler was the only state government chief to refuse the effort.
Pearson said the governor's office would find the cuts if Troxler doesn't provide them and that Perdue's staff believes the agriculture department can be more lean.
"Everyone is similarly disturbed by the idea of cutting up to 15 percent from their agencies. Everyone feels like the work they do is essential and important. We respect that," she said. "At the same time, we feel like state government still has areas we can trim."
The North Carolina Democratic Party quickly jumped on Troxler's refusal to submit a list of potential cuts, calling it "hypocrisy."
"We knew Republicans had no real answers to the budget difficulties facing our state and no interest in actually working to balance the budget," Andrew Whalen, executive director of the Democratic Party, said in a statement. "Steve Troxler’s refusal to recommend any budget cuts shows that all their campaign rhetoric was just that – cheap talk.”
Republican legislative leaders said after their historic election victories last week that state agencies would see deep spending cuts in the coming year as they work to balance the budget without any tax increases.
"We will be looking at all of the agencies – all their budgets – and trying to find savings everywhere we can find," Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said Wednesday.
Pearson noted that every agency should be prepared for cuts, including education and commerce, and she said the governor would use her discretion in deciding whether entire programs need to be eliminated or whether agencies simply need to make trims.
"No agency will be untouched," she said. "It's not realistic. It wouldn't be fair."
Troxler said he would leave the decisions on cuts to Perdue and lawmakers.
"It's not like we haven't cut, and it's not like we haven't done our part," he said. "The thing I have chosen to do is not play politics with people's lives, and I'm going to stand by that."