DVMs fight to save agriculture department

New Jersey's governor wants to eliminate agency to reduce state's $2.3 billion deficit
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May 01, 2008

TRENTON, N.J. — A plan to eliminate the New Jersey Department of Agriculture has ignited Statehouse protests and rallied the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association (NJVMA).

The proposal, pushed by Gov. Jon Corzine's administration, is designed to balance New Jersey's $32 billion budget and help reduce a $2.3 billion deficit. At press time, lawmakers were considering the plan, and NJVME Executive Director Rick Alampi called on veterinarians to actively oppose it.

"Most of us believe this will go right down to the 11th hour," he says. "We are urging our members to contact their legislators. Our lobbyist is fully engaged."

The plan

By law, New Jersey must fix its fiscal imbalance by June 30, and the governor, who holds line-item veto power over anything the General Assembly passes, appears committed to the demise of the agriculture department and the cabinet post assigned to it.

If that happens, it will make New Jersey the nation's only state without an agriculture department — a move that makes sense, proponents say, considering farmers represent less than one percent of the state's workforce. Federally mandated duties concerning food safety, inspection and trade programs would be parceled out to other departments, with some regulatory powers transferred to the Department of Environmental Protection.

State Veterinarian Dr. Nancy Halpern and the agriculture department's media representatives did not respond to DVM Newsmagazine requests for comment. Although Agriculture Secretary Charles M. Kuperus would lose his job according to the governor's plan, many posts likely would be shifted to other agencies, Alampi predicts. Because of this, the New Jersey Farm Bureau estimates the department's cut will only amount to a $400,000 cost savings.

"That's a relatively small savings to make New Jersey the only state in the union without a Department of Agriculture," Alampi says. "If you look for the real expenditures in the state of New Jersey, they're certainly not here. It appears that the governor is using Band-Aids to treat cancer."