Ahlquist touts — and defends — his pledge to cut state budget

Tommy Ahlquist is touting — and defending — his controversial pledge to cut $100 million from the state budget in his first 100 days as governor.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate released a 30-second TV ad restating his pledge, and saying that much of the savings could be realized by restructuring the state’s employee health insurance plan.

In a news release, the Boise developer and physician responded to critics of his budget pledge — albeit not by name.

“To be clear, I’m not talking about cutting education or critical needs funding,” said Ahlquist. “I’m talking about taking a sharp scalpel to wasteful spending and creating savings that can be used for meaningful tax reform, our rainy-day fund or to help fund important priorities for our state.”

The Ahlquist plan drew fire from the Republican co-chairs of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

“You can’t cut that amount without going into education, which represents about 48 percent of the budget,” Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told Chuck Malloy of Idaho Politics Weekly. “So, if you’re cutting $100 million from the budget, then you’re taking $48 million from K-12.”

Citing a report from a state actuarial consultant, Ahlquist says restructuring the insurance plan could save the state $60.6 million over three years, and $100 million over six years.

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Ahlquist is one of three major Republican candidates seeking to succeed retiring Gov. Butch Otter. U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and Lt. Gov. Brad Little are also in the race.