ST. PAUL — Taxpayers will have to fork over at least $61 million in additional funds over the next two years in costs related to MNLARS, the state’s troubled computer system for vehicle tabs and titles, according to figures proposed Tuesday, Feb. 19, by Gov. Tim Walz.
The actual spending request is larger than that — closer to $93 million over two years — but some of those costs were always anticipated and can’t be attributed to the program’s failures.
To help pay for it, Walz is proposing increasing fees on every vehicle and license transaction by $2, as well as increasing money drawn from other sources.
For perspective, the state originally hired a private contractor for $46 million almost a decade ago to develop the program, which was needed to replace a rickety system from the 1980s. The contract didn’t work out, and by the time the state took over the program and launched it in 2017, the price tag was at $93 million. Troubles ensued almost immediately, and to date, more than $100 million has been spent.
The $61 million would be in addition to that. It’s a rough figure that can’t entirely be tied to MNLARS because some of the costs will pay for the state’s new driver’s license system, which is a separate expense.
The request is likely to be scrutinized by lawmakers, especially Republicans who have been especially critical of MNLARS. The system was mostly developed and rolled out by former Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat. On Thursday, for example, a hearing is scheduled on a proposal to abolish MNIT, the state’s IT agency that developed the program in conjunction with the Department of Public Safety.
The $61 million figure includes funds to fix MNLARS (which has never worked as well as promised), hire more than 100 more people, and pay back license centers that lost money.
Here’s a rough breakdown of how some of that money would be spent, according Walz’s proposal:
- $10.2 million immediately so software developers currently working on the system aren’t laid off when the program runs out of money.
- $37.6 million — $20.3 million in the upcoming fiscal year and $17.3 the year after that — to fix glitches, add functions that were never included but broadly desired, and safely migrate data off the old legacy servers and put them to bed.
- $3.5 million to jump-start a hiring spree that can provide support for license centers.
- $10 million to reimburse license center operators who said MNLARS cost them more money when it’s working fine — and even more money when it fails. Lawmakers from both parties have suggested more money is needed to reimburse private businesses, such as auctioneers and insurance companies, which also have suffered.
In addition, Walz is proposing $16 million a year — for the foreseeable future — to keep the system secure and glitch-free. There was always going to be an “ongoing maintenance” expenditure, but it’s unclear if it was always going to cost that much.