Minnesota officials overseeing the bungled rollout of the state's new license plate and tab registration system said Wednesday they need another $43 million to make critical fixes, potentially ballooning the project's cost to nearly triple its original estimate.
Dubbed MNLARS, the new platform was meant to replace a nearly 40-year-old mainframe that millions of Minnesota residents use, from renewing license plates and tabs to processing title transactions and more. But it launched in July, years late and with a budget that had almost doubled to $93 million, frustrating customers and registrars with long delays to get license plates and workarounds for once simple tasks.
After months of slowly chipping away at a backlog of plates, tabs and titles, top project managers laid out their roadmap Wednesday to get MNLARS on track. It comes with a hefty price tag: $37 million for tech fixes, with another $6 million devoted to call centers to field customer questions and complaints.
That money would need to come from the Legislature, where Republicans have spent months blasting the latest botched technological rollout under Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's administration.
Dana Bailey, who has been shepherding project improvements at Minnesota's Information Technology Services agency since November, said the additional funding would ensure that major glitches are fixed by July. Without the extra money, those basic functions of MNLARS may not be fully operational until summer 2020.
"I recognize this is a big number," Bailey said. "It's a tough sell ... but it's a necessary one."
The new system has caused headaches among drivers, auto dealerships and deputy registrars alike. Drivers have waited weeks or more to get new license plates, and dealerships have resorted to sending customers home with several temporary plates while waiting on their transactions to process. Registrars have shelled out overtime as they resort to workarounds for the unreliable computer system.
By November, a top state official developing MNLARS was no longer working on the project and went on a leave of absence. Amid a firestorm surrounding the project last month, IT Commissioner Tom Baden announced his retirement, citing health reasons.
The state brought on Bailey and chief enterprise architect Joan Redwing to see the project through, both of whom set out to learn what needed to be fixed. At the top of the list: ensuring payments go through properly, allow registrars to edit transactions, and restore the ability to transfer specialty plates.
But for Republicans, the progress hasn't come fast enough. The state's request for an additional $43 million did not sit well with many.
"This budget request makes clear the catastrophic failure by the Dayton administration to deliver a basic, functioning system," said Rep. Paul Torkelson, who chairs the House Transportation Committee. "Minnesota taxpayers should not be forced to foot the bill to clean up this mess, and deserve better than the plan that was presented today."