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MNLARS and the Blame Game

Category: Mark Dayton
Posted: 05/22/18 14:43

by Dave Mindeman

I get frustrated with how information gets put out there. There are the facts, the perception of the facts, and the Republican Party use of perception. So be prepared for the long explanation.

In the Pioneer Press, today, there is an article about the MNLARS controversy. The headline is completely misleading...

Minnesota's DMV mess could get even messier. It's now in Dayton's hands.

Of course the MN GOP seized on the title to put out another attack on the governor. But if you read the article, the explanation is much different.

Let's go back to the beginning.

Gov. Dayton has been monitoring a problem at DVS.

Ever since it was launched over the summer to replace a crotchety 1980s-era mainframe system, the $93 million system had big problems. They affected almost every category of person who needed it to work, including regular folks looking to transfer personalized plates, auto dealers, insurance companies, and deputy registrars who operate the license centers where we got to get our legally required paperwork done. Lawmakers heard MNLARS horror stories.

First, this is obviously not a new problem - but the executive branch has the responsibility for making it work. Dayton has assumed the responsibility and has told everyone it is a serious problem and he wants to address it directly. But in order to actually make any progress, there needs to be an appropriation of budgetary money. Here is how that went...

Despite rancorous wrangling, lawmakers and Dayton reached an accord in March to give MN.IT $10 million in "emergency" funding to start its plans to make MNLARS fully functional. Republicans angered Dayton by barring any of that money from being spent on call centers, which were so overwhelmed that most callers got a busy signal. But to really follow through on plans to fix MNLARS, MN.IT said it needed an additional $33 million.

By the way, staffing the overwhelmed call centers so that the problems could be directly addressed, at least for now, was the most important part of the emergency funding. But, of course, the MN GOP wanted to make that as difficult as possible.

In order to make the most of political points, the Legislative Republicans have refused to appropriate the full amount of money while they search for real answers to the problem. The "search" involves public denouncements of the executive branch.

This dragged on through the entire session....then the House Republicans found another point of leverage. The local registrars. Because of the MNLARS problem these local businesses are losing money. It is a serious problem, but the House Republicans have focused on reimbursing them for their losses and ignoring the real problem - fixing MNLARS.

Once again, the MN GOP would rather HAVE the problem to exploit then work cooperatively to fix the problem.

Now we come to the end of session. Still no fix - but the Legislature goes with a band-aid bill meant strictly for the registrars.

Meanwhile, deputy registrars kept losing money -- both because of the system's failing and because of the fundamental way the system was designed: MNLARS required the license bureau workers to do more work, but for the same payment rates as before. They told lawmakers they needed $25 million to $30 million and a change to way they're paid. Lawmakers approved $10 million for them.

This came to Dayton's desk as a stand alone bill. An inadequate amount of money with no fix to the system or the way they are paid. Band-aid.

Dayton decided to make the strategic decision to veto this band-aid bill with the hope that this would spur emergency action for a more comprehensive bill. The legislature responded...

That huge Republican bill also includes some funding for MN.IT to fix MNLARS: $13 million over the next two years. It was unclear Monday if that would be enough for MN.IT to fix MNLARS within its original timetable; a Dayton spokesman said advisers were still studying the bill. But again, Dayton has already said he plans to veto it. One more thing in that bill: a provision requiring that 3.5 percent of all IT spending be dedicated toward cybersecurity -- an area where many experts agree Minnesota is vulnerable. It's unclear if that provision, should it become law, would affect MN.IT's finances.

OK - the MN GOP Legislature folded this into Omnibus Prime - the huge 990 page tax bill. All or nothing. Dayton is expected to veto it and of course, the MN GOP will blame Dayton for all the things not funded because of that veto.

Note also, that even with this paltry $13 million (over 2 years), they made sure to earmark some of it for cybersecurity - another thing they did not fund and which Sec of State Steve Simon has been begging for to protect our election system. Folding some of this into the MNLARS appropriation, as an earmark, would probably open up another avenue of needed revenue for cybersecurity problems which won't be met.

Are you confused yet?

So here's why the headline is misleading. Whether or not Dayton signs the bill, the MNLARS system will be messier either way. The MN GOP has guaranteed more mess, because they want it that way. They think they have no responsibility (wrong) for the MNLARS problem and they continued hanging this around Dayton's neck for the entire session. The immediate appropriation of the $33 million requested near the start of the session would have been the best attempt at fixing it. No guarantees, but they could have at least gotten started.

The MN GOP Legislature refuses to address this situation directly. They have used it for leverage in a number of legislative issues. And, of course, added it to the "OmnibusPrime" monster to make it impossible for Dayton to compromise. On anything.

If Dayton vetoes the tax bill, as expected, we are back to square one and the MNLARS problem continues and registrars continue to lose money.

MN GOP would rather talk about blame than fix it. They want an election year attack, instead of doing their job.

I have said it before, but it is worth repeating, the GOP cannot govern.
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