Legislators Demand Tougher Oversight Despite Threat of MNLARS Layoffs

Democrats are desperate to deflect responsibility for the monumental meltdown of the MNLARS vehicle registration system under  the Dayton administration’s bungling bureaucracy.

Legislative leaders are working on a measure to fund a fix that includes tougher legislative oversight over the purse strings and processes at MNIT, the state agency responsible for what’s become the most potent poster child for government incompetence since MNsure.

But the notion of increased accountability evidently doesn’t sit well with Gov. Dayton. So negotiations over a compromise have gone down to the wire this weekend, according to a recent MPR report.

The Minnesota Senate postponed a vote on legislation to provide $7.3 million for repairs to the troubled motor vehicle licensing and registration system, known as MNLARS.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he wanted the vote Thursday, but it will now likely take place on Monday. Gazelka said plans were altered after DFL Gov. Mark Dayton raised objections to the legislative oversight section of the bill. Further discussions are planned over the weekend.

Gazelka said he wants the governor to sign the bill.

“The fact that we don’t have agreement on that area is why I postponed it, because it’s been important to me that that this not be a partisan issue,” Gazelka said. “The governor took responsibility, but I’ve always said in the end, we still have to fix it.”

The jobs of 39 MNIT contractors working on the MNLARS mess supposedly hang in the balance. Without emergency funding, the state claims the contractors will have to be let go by the end of the month.

During Thursday’s Senate floor session, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, tried unsuccessfully to force a vote on the bill. Dibble said approval of the MNLARS funding is an urgent matter.

“We’re going to lose all these programmers,” Dibble said. “We might as well turn off the lights and not proceed with MNLARS anymore if we don’t do this today.”

DFLers seem to be under the impression that Minnesotans will be more sympathetic to government contractors who may be part of the problem than in finding a solution to a catastrophe that’s affected every corner of the state. Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) issued this long shot in the Morning Take tip sheet.

…Now these highly sought after workers are seeking new jobs and at least one top project developer has resigned…Continuous stalling, blaming and pontificating, instead of problem-solving, continues to make the problem worse and will add months until we have a fully functioning system for Minnesotans…There is a cost to the House Republican inaction…Republicans now own the MNLARS problem. It’s on them and only them.

Yet legislative leaders have been burned before by the Dayton administration’s assurances that allocating millions more taxpayer dollars will solve the problem without additional accountability.

The author of the bill, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, objected to Dibble’s motion.

Newman, the chair of the Senate transportation committee, said the governor is seeking significant changes which will require additional work before a vote.

“I recognize the urgency of it, but to rush through this, we’re going to get it wrong,” Newman said.

Meantime, Dayton has proposed penalizing Minnesotans even further for the dysfunctional system with a $2 per vehicle transaction fee to go to fixing MNLARS. Not a chance, according to MNN’s coverage.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jim Knoblach from Saint Cloud says that’s dead on arrival.  “To me it just adds insult to injury. He’s now going to try to charge everyone who uses the system to pay for this disaster. We’re not gonna do that,” Knoblach says.

The fact is the Dayton administration has destroyed any benefit of the doubt that might have existed among the public for its ability to solve the MNLARS mess. It’s time for grownups at the legislature to take charge of one of the most fundamentally important, yet now fatally flawed information systems that Minnesotans rely on.