Another Blank Check Won’t Fix MNLARS Meltdown

Should Minnesota taxpayers give Gov. Dayton what amounts to a blank check for tens of millions of dollars to fix the disastrous MNLARS vehicle registration computer system already botched by MN.IT? The stark reality facing legislators was outlined in the Pioneer Press.

It will cost $43 million in additional funding to fix Minnesota’s flailing vehicle title computer system and make it work the way everyone wants.

That price tag will fix all the glitches and tackle all the backlogs by July.

And make needed enhancements by the fall of 2019.

Oh, and a chunk of that money is needed by March 1. It’s unclear how much.

That was the sobering message delivered Wednesday by top officials with the state departments of Information Technology and Public Safety.

“It’s a tough sell,” said Dana Bailey, executive director of projects and initiatives for MN.IT, Minnesota’s information technology department. “But it’s a necessary one. Unfortunately, it’s our only option.”

That’s the only recourse, according to MN.IT’s new projects and initiatives executive director, Dana Bailey, whose online bio includes several government jobs but no apparent high-tech experience.

Dana works to improve our partnerships with other state agencies and stakeholders, in an effort to deliver projects on time and on budget. Bailey focuses on prioritizing goals, increasing accountability, and better communicating with our project partners and the public.

But Bailey gives Minnesotans little basis for confidence and every reason for doubt with her vague, yet costly proposal for salvaging the $93 million system.

“This raises the question: What have you been working on for the past several months?” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who chairs the House Transportation Finance Committee, said in a statement. “Legislators have been assured repeatedly that progress was being made, but now apparently progress will cease without this $43 million ransom? This budget request makes clear the catastrophic failure by the Dayton administration to deliver a basic, functioning system, and that they lack the will or creativity to fix this problem beyond simply throwing more money at it. Minnesota taxpayers should not be forced to foot the bill to clean up this mess, and deserve better than the plan that was presented today.”

In fact Bailey couldn’t even cobble together a number for how much taxpayer funding the agency needs to keep the MNLARS rescue and recovery operation going.

Bailey said she was unable to say how much money was needed by March 1 — just two weeks into the legislative session, a period when lawmakers are usually not voting on spending packages.

The whole $43 million isn’t needed by March 1, she said. But without some unspecified chunk by then, it won’t get fixed, and the department would be forced to “ramp down” its efforts, she said.

Without any new money, major problems won’t be fixed until June 2020 and the whole system won’t be running on all cylinders for more than four years, officials said.

Legislators and their constituents have been burned too many times to accept Dayton administration assurances that long lines, months of delays and a backlog of 230,000 vehicle titles and transfers will go away this time. If we’ve learned anything it’s that throwing more taxpayer funding at the dysfunctional agency and administration responsible for MNLARS doesn’t guarantee results.

It’s the greatest failure of state government since the launch of MNsure. Minnesota can do better, but who will step up and show how it’s done?