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DMV mess: Despite pleas for rescue funds, they get nothing at Minnesota Legislature

May 21, 2018 08:30AM ● Published by Editor

By Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on May 20, 2018


ST. PAUL -- They’re private business owners and government employees with a basic job: Help you renew your license plates and update the title to your car.

And on Sunday, May 20, they became legislative roadkill, casualties of a Legislature and governor unable to agree on much of anything.

Government and private deputy registrars — the people who run the 170 license centers throughout the state — pleaded for lawmakers from both parties to do the only thing that seemed feasible to help some of them to keep their doors open: override Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto of an aid package.

“We beg of you to please support this,” Julie Hanson, who serves as deputy registrar for Scott County, said in front of the media Sunday afternoon on the steps of the Capitol.

The pleas failed — even though Dayton and lawmakers from both parties have said they wanted to help.

The result, deputy registrars predicted: Some license centers will likely close, many will reduce hours, and Minnesotans will have to drive farther or face longer lines.

Here’s what this was all about:

MNLARS failure

It’s all the result of the ill-advised launch of MNLARS, a new computer system launched over the summer to handle vehicle title and tab transactions. It was a mess and largely still is, say deputy registrars, as well as car dealers, insurance agents and untold numbers of regular folks who waited in long lines or ran up against any number of roadblocks in their attempts to transfer a title or some other previously routine transaction.

Caught in the middle are the deputy registrars, whose business model is based on the ability to quickly process the transactions and who immediately began losing money due to MNLARS, many have said. About half of the license centers are run by local governments, which can subsidize the centers with local property taxes. The other half are privately owned — and some are being kept open on the backs of the owners’ credit cards or second mortgages.

Lawmakers act

Early in the legislative session, lawmakers started talking about how to help. Deputy registrars said $25 million to $30 million was needed, but in the end, the House overwhelmingly approved $9 million. The deputy registrars said that would be welcomed.

The Senate didn’t pass the bill until Wednesday — a tardiness that injected urgency into Sunday’s situation, since the Legislature faced a Sunday night deadline to act on anything before adjourning for the year. Nonetheless, the Senate’s passage was overwhelming and bipartisan.

Dayton vetoes

On Saturday, Dayton vetoed the bill — a surprise to at least some lawmakers. In a veto letter, Dayton said he supported the funding, but the bill was lacking because it didn’t include any money to fix MNLARS. He had requested between $22 million and $28 million for that.

Much of that funding, as well as funding for deputy registrars, was also in a separate — but enormous — 990-page bill that the Republican-controlled Legislature approved, but that Dayton, a Democrat, vowed he would veto for a host of other reasons.

Dayton also criticized the source of the $9 million: two state accounts directly related to license plate and title revenues. Those funds, he said, could not handle paying out that much money, when considered with other demands on them, and it would be “fiscally irresponsible” to do so.

Veto override fails

Immediately, Republican lawmakers began pushing a veto override.

The 101 votes the bill initially got in the House would have been enough for that chamber; 90 is the threshold. But when the attempt came up after 10 p.m. a number of Democrats who had voted for the initial bill refused to vote in favor of the override, and the maneuver only received 79 votes.

Dayton’s Plan B fails

Earlier in the day, Dayton urged lawmakers to pass a different bill that included the $9 million for deputy registrars, as well as the money to fix MNLARS.

Republicans refused.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, blamed all of it on Dayton.

Sunday evening, Daudt said: “I have a feeling that when deputy registrars look at what happened this session, and who had their back and who didn’t, they’re gonna be pretty disappointed that the governor looked at a bill that would have rescued them from this disaster he has created, and he said ‘No.’ ”

Dayton blamed lawmakers, saying they were prioritizing only deputy registrars, when the entire MNLARS system needs to be fixed, because it affects hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans. “Why wouldn’t we want to do both?” he said.

‘Services disintegrate’

“Services are starting to disintegrate,” said Gaye Smith, manager of the South St. Paul license center. She and Kelly Davison, owner of the Prior Lake license center, said if license centers close in rural areas, people will be forced to make long drives — up to 100 miles in far northern Minnesota — to get their business done.

In the metro, lines that are currently an hour or more could double if a nearby license center closes, since all of its customers will flow to the neighboring one, they said.

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