Raimondo seeks $11M more for DMV IT system

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A provision tucked into Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget would require Rhode Island drivers to pay an additional $11 million in fees tied to the Division of Motor Vehicles’ long-delayed computer upgrade.

“The fee has been in there for several years, and we just thought it made sense to keep it there so we could get the job right,” Raimondo told Eyewitness News on Tuesday.

The DMV has been levying a $1.50 surcharge on all transactions since July 2007 to fund the technology project, which has run into so many problems that it’s now the subject of a lawsuit between the state and contractor HP Enterprise.

The $1.50 fee was originally supposed to go away in June 2014 before initially being extended for three years. It’s now supposed to end this coming June 30, at which point it will have generated about $20.6 million total, according to state officials.

But Raimondo’s budget proposes keeping the fee in place for an additional five years, through June 2022, to raise another $11 million.

“The fee will go toward maintaining and investing in technology that the DMV needs to function effectively in the coming years,” R.I. Department of Revenue Director Robert Hull told Eyewitness News. “Steady funding of equipment maintenance and upgrades is a worthwhile investment to keep our technology current and address challenges in a timely manner.”

The fee was first put in place during former Gov. Don Carcieri’s administration to help defray the cost of the Rhode Island Motor Vehicle System (RIMS), an effort to replace the DMV’s Reagan-era computer system. A decade later the project is still unfinished, though officials insist it will be ready to launch this summer.

HPE tried to walk off the project last fall after demanding more money from the Raimondo administration, leading the governor to sue. A judge has initially sided with the state, ordering the company to continue its work for now. The two sides have been in mediation and are due back in court Friday.

Money from the $1.50 fee has been used to cover an $11-million loan from Bank of America the state took out to fund RIMS, as well as to directly cover project costs once the bank was paid back. A spokesman confirmed the additional money from extending the fee would go toward costs related to RIMS.

“If I’ve learned one thing being governor, it’s that getting technology right is hard, and you need more resources, not less resources,” Raimondo said. “So we thought it was prudent to keep it in there.”

The governor submitted her proposed 2017-18 budget on Jan. 19. It is now being reviewed by state lawmakers, who are not expected to enact a final version until late spring. The House Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing on the DMV fee proposal for next Tuesday.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram