Minnesota lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton reached an agreement to keep fixing the state's problematic licensing and registration system, which includes additional money and some new accountability measures. But the debate over how to make the system fully workable will continue.
House and Senate negotiators agreed Thursday morning to grant the $10 million requested by Dayton, whose administration has warned that they would have to start laying off contractors working on the glitchy system at the end of March if they didn't get the influx of emergency cash.
Throughout the month, state commissioners overseeing the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) have said programmers were going to leave if the Legislature didn't act fast to grant the cash. But lawmakers said they wanted to make sure the agencies had sufficient oversight and accountability.
"While this transfer of funds should have been approved weeks ago, I am thankful that Minnesota IT Services and the Department of Public Safety will now have the resources and support they need to retain top talent and make urgently needed improvements to MNLARS for the next several months," Dayton said in a statement Thursday. He signed the bill later in the day.
House sponsor Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, acknowledged that it has taken some time for legislators to get to this point.
But Torkelson said the MNLARS project has taken 10 years and is still not finished. "This is unconscionable. We need better performance," he said.
The Senate approved the bill in a 48-17 vote Thursday, and the House passed it 124-6.
The $10 million will be transferred from state driver and vehicle services accounts. The most controversial point was whether to require Dayton to cut $10 million from state agency budgets to refill those accounts. Dayton said he would veto that measure, and House members who initially pushed to include the provision agreed to remove it.
Of the $10 million, $350,000 will be spent on an information technology auditor to monitor the development of the system. Officials handling the system must report quarterly on their progress and whether they are over budget. Additionally, the legislation requires the state to do a request for information to look into private vendors who could replace MNLARS.
Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, was one of the legislators who opposed the bill. He said he is still getting calls from people who aren't getting tabs or title transfers.
"I want to highlight this mess, because it is a mess," he said. "And as they say on the farm, we really stepped in it."
The divisive debate will continue as the $10 million is just part of the Dayton administration's MNLARS funding request. It will take another $33 million to fix the system, state officials have said. The $43 million is in addition to at least $93 million that the state has already spent on MNLARS.
"This is far from over but I truly believe it is a step, a first step, in the right direction," said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, who authored the Senate bill.