HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia's finance minister says pre-budget consultations are hearing that the province shouldn't balance its books at any cost.

Maureen MacDonald says while it's still early in the process, a consensus seems to be emerging that balancing the projected $277-million deficit shouldn't be done through deep cuts to health care, education and other public services.

MacDonald says she's hearing the message from a range of interests including chambers of commerce and advocacy groups.

She says while there are differing opinions on balancing the budget this year as promised, no one has said it has to be done.

But MacDonald is stopping short of saying the government will put off the balance budget promise until next year, adding that the consultations will simply present her with options.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie says MacDonald is getting ready to break the government's promise to balance the books in this spring's budget.