The Minnesota Senate Transportation Committee advanced legislation Monday to provide $7.3 million for ongoing repairs and improvements to the state’s motor vehicle licensing system and to establish a new layer of legislative oversight for future funding.
The bill provides less than the $10 million that state agencies had requested by March 1 to keep repairs on track for the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS). The bill, which is expected to get a full Senate vote Thursday, authorizes the use of existing money in a Division of Vehicle Services revenue account.
Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, the transportation committee chair, said he left out money the agencies wanted for staff to handle MNLARS complaints.
“I reject the idea that we should be hiring more folks at this point to answer the telephone, principally because I think we ought to be spending the money on getting the program up and running,” Newman said.
A separate measure moving through the Minnesota House would provide $10 million and require Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration to cut an equal amount from executive branch budgets. Dayton opposes the House bill.
Minnesota IT Services and the Department of Public Safety are seeking a total of $43 million for MNLARS this session. That’s on top of the more that $93 million already spent on the troubled project.
Newman’s bill would require the Legislative Advisory Commission to conduct quarterly MNLARS funding reviews. A single member of the panel could potentially block project funding.
Johanna Clyborne, commissioner of Minnesota IT Services, said the requirement would put the project in a constant state of budget uncertainty and inhibit progress.
“In order to recruit and retain IT talent we need on our team, we need to be able to provide some certainty to our IT contractors that their positions will be funded for more than a few months at a time,” Clyborne said.
State officials sent 30-day layoff notices to MNLARS contractors when lawmakers missed the earlier deadline. Clyborne said several contractors, including a top developer, have said they plan to leave.
Newman said the legislative oversight provision is essential.
“I have to have some teeth in it,” he said. “I have to have some way to ensure that if we as Senators do not agree with the way the money is being spent and don’t agree that they’re reaching their benchmarks that we can stop their funding.”