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COMMENTARY: State's licensing system a 'black hole'

By State Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck

Like most Minnesotans, I was surprised — maybe shocked is a better description — by the announcement last week concerning our state's new license tab and vehicle registration program.

Appearing before a joint meeting of legislative transportation committees, the folks from MN.IT (the state's IT department) and the Department of Public Safety announced they would need an additional $37 million to fix the many problems and finish the upgrade to the new system known as MNLARS. That's on top of the nearly $100 million spent so far on the project, which was rolled out in a rather auspicious debut this past July.

The new program, many years in the making, was beset by numerous flaws right from the start. Everything from increased wait times for processing applications at local DMV offices to total system-wide freeze-ups. The roll out of the new MNLARS system caused headaches for residents attempting to get new license tabs or to register vehicles, for car dealerships trying to complete vehicle transfers and for those trying to work with the new system. Local offices racked up substantial expenses hiring more staff or paying overtime to those who stayed at work longer trying to get their work done. Back in September, at the peak of e-mail inquiries seeking help in navigating the system, wait times for responses from the state ranged up to six weeks!

The MNLARS people released what they called a "roadmap and associated budget" for the improvement and ongoing enhancement of the system. Without this new infusion of state money, they said, it will be difficult to finish the job. It was put this way: "Current resources will only support a small volume of the work needed to be done."

The obvious questions linger, such as how could this have already cost so much, nearly double its original estimate? Why has it taken so long to complete? And why is even more funding needed to finish the job?

We were assured the system would work prior to its rollout, and then after its release, MN.IT said that it was making progress and that changes were being made. Now, with this latest announcement, it would appear that progress will stop or slow considerably unless more funding is provided by the Legislature.

This entire new system is like a big "black hole," which we are being asked to keep pouring more money into. At least to this point, it's been extremely frustrating for the people of Minnesota, and a huge and expensive failure.