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Guest Opinion: How Christie tore down Tesla



Star-Ledger Editorial Board March 22, 2014 at 7:18:00 PM EDT

There’s not a whole lot of love out there for car salesmen. Who wouldn’t rather buy a car straight from the manufacturer, and avoid all the fees and sleaze?

So you’d think our state would be cheering on Tesla Motors, an innovative American company that makes electric cars and sells them just like Apple sells iPads — direct from its store at the mall.

But no. Instead we are chasing Tesla out of New Jersey, thanks to Gov. Chris Christie. His political minions at the state Motor Vehicle Commission recently voted to revoke Tesla’s license to sell cars, which the agency had previously issued under Gov. Jon Corzine.

That means Tesla will no longer be allowed to sell from its showrooms at the Mall at Short Hills and Garden State Plaza. It adds New Jersey to just a handful of states that ban direct car sales. So much for improving our state’s business climate.

Christie doesn’t tell Apple how to sell its products. So why is he telling Tesla?

The governor has dodged responsibility by claiming he’s bound by state law to enforce this rule. That’s bunk. He’s referring to an outdated law that has long gone unenforced. It was intended to curb predatory behavior by car manufacturers and big dealerships that seek to devour smaller ones, not legitimate competition. And if Christie doesn’t like this statute, why hasn’t he proposed changing it?

Chris Christie on lifting NJ Tesla electric car sale ban: 'I am not a king.' New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is asked by an attendee at his South River town hall meeting why his administration is forbidding Tesla Motors from selling its electric cars through its direct-to-consumer showrooms. The company last week accused Christie of blocking innovation by passing a new rule that will force the company to close its two showrooms in New Jersey. Christie says he is bound by law to enforce rules requiring cars to be sold through dealers and the legislature is to blame for not changing that law. (Video by Brian Donohue / The Star-Ledger)

We’ve seen him change laws all over the place: dismantling tenure, capping property taxes and overhauling our state’s pension system. His officials at the state Department of Environmental Protection even pushed through a powerful waiver rule to allow his administration to bypass state regulations.

So what’s stopping our hell-bent governor now?

In a word, money. You can bet he’s acting at the behest of car dealers who want to protect their brawny monopoly, and tossed big contributions into his political coffers.

As Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine pointed out, the hypocrisy is priceless. The very same governor who just complained that “government’s trying to control the free market” is now stepping in to do so himself. And not only is Christie meddling in the market, kowtowing to special interests and incurring the wrath of almost everyone on the political spectrum, he’s ignoring the effect on the climate.

This we’ve seen before. Christie has dismissed climate change as “esoteric,” and his administration is requiring everyone to tack on only a 1-foot margin of safety after Hurricane Sandy, even though Delaware, New York and Maryland are all rebuilding higher.

He also withdrew New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which deprives our state of revenue that could be used for clean energy, and raided at least $1 billion from our state’s clean-energy fund in order to balance his budget.

And let’s not forget that sweeping waiver rule that lets his administration flout long-standing environmental regulations — an open invitation to polluters.

To that growing list of climate crimes, we now add Christie’s attack on Tesla.

Electric cars help reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The Tesla is still too expensive to be a car for the masses, but with the electric car industry looking to expand, it could get a lot more affordable in the future.

And the company has every reason to sell direct: Car dealers don’t want to peddle Teslas because they don’t require routine maintenance such as oil changes or tuneups, which is how the dealers make most of their money.

So for once, Christie’s hit upon an issue that offends consumers, environmentalists and business people alike. Our governor should be supporting a successful American car company — not getting paid to smother it.


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