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Walz, leaders reach deal to keep MNLARS repairs on track

Minnesota lawmakers said Monday they have reached a compromise on stop-gap funding for MNLARS, the state's troubled vehicle registration and licensing system.

The $13.3 million agreement will keep repairs and improvements for the system on track. It will also prevent layoff notices going out to the outside contractors currently working on the project.

The Senate and House passed the legislation Monday night, sending it to Gov. Tim Walz for his signature.

The House and Senate were expected to vote on the legislation Monday night.

Senate Transportation Chair Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he was initially reluctant to provide the deficiency funding requested by Walz, but he said he changed his mind over concerns about MNLARS work coming to a halt.

“You are dealing with a system that brings in $2 billion a year and affects millions and millions of people in the state of Minnesota,” Newman said. “We simply, in my estimation, cannot run the risk of having this system shut down.”

The deal provides less than the $15.7 million Walz originally requested. It also doesn’t include the $10 million in reimbursements to deputy registrars that the House passed last week. But all sides are on board.

Newman said other affected groups will also likely seek payments, and he would rather do them all at once.

“I do not want to come back next year or the year after and be hit continually with requests for reimbursement,” he said.

Newman’s committee was scheduled on Tuesday to take up a separate bill dealing with payments to deputy registrars.

Another provision in the bill requires a review of MNLARS by independent experts and a report due by May 1.

MNLARS, short for Minnesota Licensing and Registration System, has needed repairs and additional funding since its rocky launch in July 2017. The project's cost over 10 years has topped $100 million. Walz asked for additional funding in his two-year budget proposal. He is also pledging to resolve the remaining MNLARS problems.

“We are moving towards that final fix,” Walz said.

During a transportation committee hearing Monday on the deficiency funding bill, Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, objected to spending more on MNLARS.

“The only thing I’ve heard from my constituents is ‘stop, just stop giving this thing money,’” Howe said.

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