When it comes to money, Jim Justice is a paradox.
He is incredibly wealthy. Forbes estimates his net worth at nearly $1.6 billion dollars. Justice is often generous with his money. He saved the historic Greenbrier Resort from imminent closure, protecting hundreds of jobs. Lord knows how much it cost to rebuild the Old White TPC for the PGA Tour event earlier this month.
Yet Justice can also be miserly. Stories abound of vendors and tax collectors who have had difficulty getting Justice companies to pay their bills. National Public Radio reported last October, “His mining companies owe $15 million in six states, including property and mineral taxes, state coal severance and withholding taxes, federal income, excise and employment taxes, as well as mine safety penalties, according to county, state and federal records.”
Just last week, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that the state Tax Department has four liens against the Justice family owned Tams Management Inc. for nearly $1 million unpaid taxes, mostly coal severance taxes. MetroNews’ Brad McElhinny also reported on the story.
The Justice family owns and operates dozens of companies. They employ a lot of people and no doubt write huge checks to governments and vendors. If I was Justice and I was questioned about taxes, my first response would be, “Do you want to hear how much I do pay?” That has to be a huge number.
We probably wouldn’t hear much about the bill and tax-paying habits of some of Justice’s companies were he not Governor. The court system is kept busy with disputes over debts, while private business owners often have issues with the state tax department or the IRS over tax liabilities.
However, Justice is a public figure now, so the additional scrutiny should be expected. But more importantly, the still-new Governor’s credibility is damaged by the tax debts. The political juxtaposition is too obvious to ignore: How can he ask West Virginians to pay additional taxes or criticize the Legislature for not putting more money toward drug treatment when his companies have outstanding tax liabilities?
That’s a trump card too easy for his critics to play. Just last week Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who was in a tiff with the Governor over planned upgrades to eight Capitol bathrooms, said, “Pay your taxes–$4.5 million in taxes for drug treatment.”
Ask people who know Justice why he has a history of foot-dragging on his bills and they say the same thing; they don’t know, but naturally there is speculation.
Perhaps he has cash flow problems, especially given the difficulties in the coal industry and the expense of keeping the Greenbrier open and operating. Or maybe it’s just a way of doing business; hold back on payment and then settle for a lesser amount on the dollar.
Yes, since becoming Governor Justice has turned his companies’ operations over to others, but these payment issues will continue to be linked to him, especially if they are nonpayment of state taxes or fees. They erode his ability to ask other West Virginians to do their fair share.