State officials, GOP lawmakers clash over MNLARS funding
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — State officials overseeing Minnesota’s troubled new computer system for license plates and registration got a frosty reception Tuesday in their bid to secure an emergency $10 million infusion, facing skepticism and anger from Republican lawmakers.
Repairing the new system known as MNLARS will be a central focus in the Legislature’s new session: It’s a critical government function that touches millions of residents’ lives, and it’s responsible for more than $1 billion in state revenue from license plates, tabs and titles. Its fumbled summer rollout spawned months of complaints about errors and delays as well as outrage from lawmakers of both parties that a $93 million system still isn’t fully operational.
And that tab is growing — state officials have requested an additional $43 million from the Legislature to make needed fixes, potentially tripling the project’s original estimated cost. On Tuesday, top project managers from Minnesota’s Information Technology Services agency told a House committee they need $10 million of that sum this week to keep ongoing work on track.
“Without the required funding, it will have a crippling effect on the progress we are making,” IT Commissioner Johanna Clyborne told lawmakers.
But Republicans who control the Legislature aren’t ready to fork over more money.
Rep. Paul Torkelson, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, previously said he’d challenge Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration to pull together the $10 million from within existing executive branch budgets. But the Hanska Republican told Clyborne and others they’d need to take it up with House Speaker Kurt Daudt.
“I feel it’s above my pay grade to cough up $10 million,” Torkelson said. “I have no intention of moving anything forward.”
MNLARS’ botched rollout has put lawmakers in a bind, forcing them to weigh their anger that a nearly $100 computer system isn’t working properly against the potential that it could worsen without more money to make needed fixes.
State officials have said they’ve made improvements in recent months, rolling out dozens of system updates while reducing a backlog of transactions from a peak of 370,000 down to 215,000 as of last week.
Kelly Davison, who owns the Prior Lake Deputy Registrar’s office, said every system update meant to fix errors seemed to create several more problems, triggering a familiar tide of workarounds, staff overtime and frustration.
“They take one step forward and we take two steps back,” Davison said.
Republicans have shown little interest in meeting the state’s request for an additional $43 million nor shared the IT agency’s urgency for emergency funding this week.
“It would be irresponsible for us to just shovel out more money without understanding how we got here,” Torkelson said.