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Governor weighs special session in wooing Tesla

Customers look at a Tesla

Customers look at a Tesla in a Cincinnati showroom. New Mexico is one of four state that are finalists for a Tesla battery factory. (Al Behrman/The Associated Press)

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Susana Martinez said her office is evaluating whether a special legislative session is necessary to complete the package of economic incentives being crafted to make New Mexico more appealing to Tesla Motors.

“There are discussions whether or not it needs to be,” Martinez said Monday after she addressed an Albuquerque meeting of NAIOP, the area’s commercial real estate development association. “If it’s necessary, we are open to whatever we can do that would even include that sort of thing. I’ve had legislators say, ‘If it’s necessary, we’ll come.’ ”

Martinez said the state is in the running for the company’s $5 billion battery manufacturing plant in part because of tax code changes made during recent legislative sessions, such as the state’s reduction in corporate income taxes and tax cuts for manufacturers who export their products out of state.

“Because we are now more competitive, we’re in the game. We’re negotiating, we’re talking, we’re trying to do the very best to stay in the game, and with the help of some of the things that happened during the session, we are going to keep our fingers crossed,” Martinez said, adding that she could not discuss details of the negotiations.

Tesla plans to build a 10 million-square-foot battery plant estimated to create 6,500 new jobs. New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Texas are considered finalists for the facility.

Democratic legislative leaders said a special session to woo Tesla would be unprecedented, and appropriate only if New Mexico has evidence that it was Tesla’s pick.

“If there is a possibility of a special session, I believe there’s going to have to be some pretty concrete evidence that what we would do here would mean that Tesla would, as a matter of fact, come to New Mexico,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen.

“… It’s a matter of efficiency and not wasting taxpayer money and spinning our wheels for a company that’s looking to see where they can get the best deal,” Sanchez said.

The House majority whip, Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, who unsuccessfully sponsored legislation during this year’s session to provide reduced electricity rates to lure companies such as Tesla, said the Legislature could get a deal done if called upon.

“These are high-level negotiations with the executive branch. If there was some certainty with regard to Tesla’s commitment, then I’m confident the Legislature would do what it takes,” Maestas said.

Martinez told the NAIOP group of more than 500 at the Albuquerque Marriott on Monday that the status of negotiations with Tesla will be kept quiet to ensure New Mexico stays competitive.

“We have talked to them and we have promised them that the negotiations would remain on the down-low, so that we don’t jeopardize the opportunities that may come,” Martinez said.

A New Mexico law that prohibits car manufacturers from selling vehicles directly to consumers, a model Tesla uses to sell its cars in other states, has not been a factor in negotiations with the company’s battery manufacturing operations, Martinez said. Nevada is the only one of the four finalist states that doesn’t have such a law.

“It hasn’t been a factor in the conversation,” she said.