By DANIELA ALTIMARI
Tesla is making a renewed push for a bill that would legalize its direct-sales approach to selling electric vehicles.
The company has tried for three years to pass similar legislation, but each time, the effort fell short in the General Assembly.
Tesla officials are once again framing the proposal as an economic development measure that would reward innovation and inject millions of dollars into the stateâ€™s economy. They say it will also help the environment by making it easier for motorists to purchase electric vehicles.
â€śWe still think this is a consumer rights issue,â€™â€™ said Will Nicholas, a spokesman for Tesla in Connecticut.
Tesla customers in Connecticut currently have to cross into New York to purchase the vehicles. The company says the state is losing about $5 million annually in sales tax revenue since buyers have the option of paying taxes on their vehicles in New York.
Nicholas said Connecticut will soon be surrounded by states that permit Tesla to sell its vehicles directly. Officials in Rhode Island recently granted the company approval, joining Massachusetts and New York.
The Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, which represents the stateâ€™s 270 new car dealers, has vigorously opposed the legislation in the past and intends to do so again this year, said Jim Fleming, the groupâ€™s president.
â€śWe believe passing a direct sale bill means loss of jobs,â€™â€™ said Fleming, who notes that 14,000 people are employed by auto dealerships in Connecticut. He also views the matter as a consumer protection issue, saying allowing direct sales would open up the Connecticut market to a flood of vehicles from India and China.
Fleming dismissed Teslaâ€™s assertion that state residents who buy the companyâ€™s cars in New York and avoid Connecticut sales tax as â€śa red herring.â€™â€™
The stateâ€™s long-standing requirement that new vehicles be sold through dealerships protects consumers, Fleming said. Only 20 states permit direct sales, he said. â€śTesla likes to say that Connecticut is an outlier but thatâ€™s just not true.â€ť
Tesla has secured the support of several prominent legislators from both political parties, including House Republican Leader Themis Klarides, Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport, the chairman of the legislatureâ€™s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague and the co-chairwoman of the powerful appropriations committee.
â€śHow many times have we seen the state offer taxpayer money to lure businesses to Connecticut,â€ť Klarides said. â€śThis is exactly the opposite â€” a company that wants to invest its own money, create jobs and send us tax revenue. We either need to pass this legislation or find some common sense in a hurry.â€ť
The political debate is clouded by legal action: The state Department of Motor Vehicles says Tesla has sold cars at a Greenwich gallery without a new-car dealerâ€™s license as required under current law. Tesla says it is not selling cars at the gallery and has appealed the ruling.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.