Report warns MNLARS repair money running out

Minnesota IT Services Commissioner Johanna Clyborne says a ramp down of MNLARS repair work is coming, but she's not sure when. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

A new report shows that two state agencies will soon run out of money to make repairs to the troubled Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS).

Minnesota IT Services and the Department of Public Safety updated state legislators this week in a required quarterly progress report on ongoing efforts to fix MNLARS gaps and defects. Agency officials noted some improvements since their initial report was delivered in late April. But they also highlighted the looming financial problem.

Another ramp-down of the repair work is coming, Minnesota IT Service Commissioner Johanna Clyborne said in an interview. She’s just not sure when.

“We’re going to do as much as we can with the funding that we have and we’re going to have to make some tough decisions,” Clyborne said.

Clyborne’s agency has been using a $9.6 million emergency allocation that lawmakers passed early in the 2018 session to get through the end of the fiscal year. Additional MNLARS funding was requested but did not come through.

A $13.7 million allocation was lost when Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a massive budget and policy bill. That action was separate from Dayton’s veto of $9 million in relief for deputy registrars that were hurt financially by the MNLARS rollout.

“In my mind, it’s on Gov. Dayton,” said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, chair of the Senate transportation committee. “We did provide funding and he vetoed it.”

Still, Newman said he wants to learn more about the two state agencies’ finances and how MNLARS work might move forward. He said a meeting is planned later this month to study the matter.

Discussions continue this week with deputy registrars, auto dealers and other MNLARS users to rank the repairs and improvements they want in the system, Clyborne said. She said the timing of the ramp-down will become clearer once the list of priorities is set.

“The question is whether I ramp down in August or whether I ramp down in October or somewhere in between,” she said.

MNLARS has been under intense scrutiny since its faulty launch last summer. Lawmakers required quarterly progress reports as part of the emergency funding bill enacted in March.

Minnesota IT Services sent layoff notices to MNLARS contractors and began ramping down while waiting for legislative action on the emergency funding.

The MNLARS project team has still not fully recovered from that episode. The report says there are 18 vacancies. Clyborne said more contractors could decide to leave soon.

“Even though we haven’t given the notices yet, they are starting to look at their other options,” she said.

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