Among the many issues left for the last week of session is the fate of a bill that would allow Tesla Motors to sell cars directly to Connecticut consumers.
The legislation passed by the House is fairly narrow in scope — so narrow, in fact, that it can only apply to Tesla. Despite the bill’s limitations, the Senate should sign on as well, and take a small step toward encouraging innovation and competition in Connecticut.
The arguments against the bill fall into a few categories. Among some right-wing ideologues, the bill’s narrow scope is reason enough to vote “no.”
Republican Rep. Rob Sampson, a conservative firebrand from Wolcott, pointed out in floor debate that the bill “is inherently against the free market,” which may or may not be true depending upon how you look at it.
But since the legislature’s goal ought to be doing what’s best for Connecticut, regardless of whether it fits into Ayn Rand’s worldview the burden is on Rep. Sampson to prove that the legislation is bad from a practical standpoint, and not just a theoretical one.
Opponents of the legislation also point to possible job losses as a reason to vote against.
Testifying in front of the Transportation Committee, Jeff Aiosa of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association (CARA), said the bill would “jeopardize the 13,000 good paying jobs we provide right now.”
Aiosa, and others who oppose the bill based on supposed job losses, completely fail to explain how Tesla opening its own stores will result in fewer Connecticut jobs. To me, it seems insane that the state legislature would want to require would-be Connecticut Tesla owners to go out of state to buy a car. If this legislation passes, Tesla can open up three stores in the state, and hire folks to work in them.
But even if you buy the argument that Tesla will cost some jobs, that still isn’t reason enough to reject the bill. Protecting jobs for the sake of protecting jobs is politically popular but economically disastrous. Technological innovation is often disruptive, and short term job losses are an acceptable cost of progress.
Legislators should be worried about the impact of technology on employment in Connecticut, but the correct response is to beef up programs designed to retrain workers. Trying to stop innovation is as destructive as it is futile.
The most compelling argument against the legislation is that Tesla is a new and risky company, and that they’re likely to fail, leaving everyone who’s purchased one of their vehicles left holding the bag.
James Fleming, president of the CARA, pointed out in testimony that few expected companies like Saturn, SAAB, and Hummer to fail.
“When it comes to recalls, warranties, and securing the lemon law, dealers have been advocates for consumers whenever problems arise or car companies fail,” Fleming testified. “Recalls, warranty work and lemon law guarantees are an expense to a direct-sell manufacturer owned retail store . . . not so to a franchised dealership.”
Robert Hensley, a small business owner in Simsbury, testified that he “would rather rely on locally licensed and locally owned businesses that in many cases are 3rd- and 4th-generation dealerships. They are here to stay and we know where they are — they are in our community. We know where to find them when something goes wrong.”
Hensley and Fleming make a good point. You may be better off buying a car from a local dealer, rather than directly from the manufacturer. But if the existing franchise model is really so much better than what Tesla is proposing, why do the dealerships need protection? We can let consumers weigh the risks and benefits of buying a Tesla for themselves.
The reasons to vote for the bill are numerous, and I’ll deal with just a couple.
For one thing, considering that Connecticut residents can already purchase a Tesla online, it seems silly to prevent the company from opening stores in the state. Consumers who want to buy a Tesla will still do so, but they’ll just spend their dollars across state lines, like Sen. Art Linares did when he bought his Tesla.
Allowing Tesla to expand in Connecticut will mean more jobs, and more consumer choice. And that’s without even considering Tesla’s environmental impact. Fossil fuel consumption is the main driver of global warming. Every driver who switches to an electric vehicle is making a small contribution toward a better planet, and the state legislature ought to do what it can to make that switch easier.
At the end of the day, making it easier to buy Teslas is good for the planet, good for the economy, and good for Connecticut.
Kiernan Majerus-Collins, 19, is a college student and Democratic Town Committee member from West Hartford. He can be reached on Facebook
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