FARIBAULT, Minn. - Faribault’s Steve Erickson waited a year and a half to slap a custom license plate on his red Ford F-150. On Thursday, with Gov. Tim Walz in town, Erickson's wait came to an end.
Walz was in Faribault Feb. 14 with state Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault) to visit Hanscom Motor Vehicle Office and test out a software fix for the state's beleaguered Minnesota Licensing and Registration System designed to allow the transfer of specialty license plates from one vehicle to another.
Erickson’s plate honoring the late Formula One driver Ayrton Senna was one of the first tests of the system.
“It just means a lot,” Erickson said of being able to get his plate affixed to his vehicle like he’s done with each vehicle he’s owned since 1994. “It’s awesome.”
Last week, Walz requested $15.7 million to help fix MNLARS, which was released in July 2017. MNLARS "did not adequately meet the needs of Minnesota residents and key stakeholders, despite a decade of work and significant state expenditures,” according to a Thursday report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor.
Deputy Legislative Auditor Judy Randall and Special Reviews Director Joel Alter authored the report, which criticized the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the Office of Minnesota Information Technology Services for the failure of the project. So far, MNLARS has taken nine years and cost almost $100 million.
Faribault Deputy Registrar Patty Hanscom said switching the license plates Thursday took a bit longer than it would ideally, but that the process is working better than it has in months.
“I’ve got a fair amount of background in IT and I can tell you one thing, there’s no such thing as an emergency software release. If the software package isn’t ready for prime time, the last thing you should be doing is actually releasing it,” Hanscom said of the MNLARS rollout. “It’s too bad they did that and obviously we’re still recovering, but you can’t go back and undo that. They are doing the best they can, I think.”
In order to make the system fully functional, it will take much more than $15.7 million, despite what’s already been spent on the project.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a difficult ask, but it’s one that I think is a good model for us that if you’re going to ask for taxpayer dollars, they’re willing to pay it if they think it’s fair and they know where it’s going,” Walz said Thursday. “I’m just making sure that I honor their requests and make it easier for them.”
Backups in getting specialty license plates is just one part of the MNLARS equation, along with months-long delays to get driver’s licenses and vehicle titles.
Jasinski has introduced a bill that would reimburse registrars across the state like Hanscom for lost funds and productivity due to the MNLARS problems.
“My biggest thing is these deputy registrars are small businesses throughout the state of Minnesota,” he said. “They’re the [livelihood] of this whole system, so I want to make sure they’re compensated for what’s happened in the past, and moving forward [that] they get the right compensation for it.”