Tax Department Liens on Justice

The news that the Greenbrier Hotel Corporation failed to pay five months of sales taxes due the state last year is not surprising.  Hardly a week goes by that there is not a revelation or legal action involving debts, non-payment of bills or loan repayment issues involving one of the many businesses owned by the family of Governor Jim Justice.

In this instance, the State Tax Department has filed liens against Greenbrier properties for the $3,521,047.49 in sales taxes, interest and penalties owed to the state. When our Brad McElhinny asked Justice about the overdue taxes during a press availability this week, the Governor said he had not been aware of it.

“If that be the case, without any question the owner of the Greenbrier should pay the taxes,” Justice said. That owner would be him, or some corporate iteration of him and members of his family. “I really don’t know anything about this one at all,” he said.

I believe Justice is telling the truth. The Governor never divested himself from his many companies when he was elected, but my understanding is that he is usually detached from day-to-day operations.

This is a bad look for a business that has filled West Virginians with pride. When Justice bought the Greenbrier out of bankruptcy, he rightly received public credit. If his historic resort can’t or won’t pass along the sales taxes it collects, then that is a stain. It is also a bad example for every other business that duly collects sales taxes and turns the money over to the state on time.

Businesses are tax collectors. They are required to collect sales taxes on behalf of the state and then remit them to Charleston the month following when they were collected. The money never belongs to the entity that collected it.

So, you see the irony. Governor Justice wants a special legislative session to update how collected tax revenue will be spent, but one of his largest and most recognizable businesses has failed to send to Charleston taxes collected on behalf of the state.

We don’t know why the taxes were not paid because the one person available to answer questions about it says he doesn’t know.  Justice did, however, tell McElhinny, “I’ll check it out.” Maybe there is a logical explanation.

I keep hearing that the historic Greenbrier Resort makes money. If that is the case, then either somebody in the accounting office screwed up or the money was shifted around as part of the ongoing efforts by Justice businesses to cover other bills.

Whatever the reason, according the Tax Department the money is overdue. Individuals and businesses have an obligation to pay their taxes.

Here is an important footnote to this story; the State Tax Department did its job without fear or favor. A less diligent agency would have given Justice a heads up and the issue would have gone away. I’m always heartened when the government works!

Now all that is left is for the Greenbrier to write a check for $3,521,047.49 to the Tax Department.





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