From The Charleston Gazette-Mail:
Democratic candidate for governor Jim Justice portrays himself as a homespun West Virginia everyman, asking voters to just trust in his enthusiasm and love for the state. If he really wants to be governor, it’s past time to start being the guy who actually pays his taxes, fines and pledges.
An NPR report by Howard Berkes and others on Friday documented that billionaire Justice’s mining companies “owe $15 million in six states, including property and minerals taxes, state coal severance and withholding taxes, and federal income, excise and unemployment taxes, as well as mine safety penalties.”
The biggest creditors are the people of Kentucky, where Justice’s companies owe $6.81 million. West Virginians are next, owed $4.71 million, including more than $3 million in state tax liens. The other states are Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama. Local and state taxes — think schools, roads, teachers and police.
After the Gazette-Mail reported earlier this year that Justice owed $3.9 million in property taxes in some of the most cash-strapped counties in the state, and even the nation, Justice paid those bills within weeks. In Kentucky, a county attorney sued, and in Virginia, a sheriff started seizing mine equipment for unpaid taxes. Both got some attention and payment.
But that was just the thin edge of the wedge, apparently. NPR also found:
Justice has paid $675,000 worth of federal mine safety fines in Kentucky, according to a payment agreement worked out with the government. That covers less than half the fine amount.
Justice’s mines that are delinquent have higher-than-average injury rates.
Justice has, so far, reneged on a couple large charitable pledges — $10 million to the Cleveland Clinic and $25 million to the Boy Scouts (He gave $5 million and land to the Scouts.) His people say downturns in the coal industry have delayed payments, but he will honor his promises.
It’s not enough to just glad-hand and sing the praises of the state in an aw-shucks manner. State government is not just another underperforming subsidiary, a good place to park assets or dither about with the bills. For all it is maligned, state government, any government, really, is an exercise in teamwork. It is the people’s common expression of their goals and aspirations, and an organization built to realize those goals. When you ask the people to entrust you with running it, you must show respect for it. At the very least, you pay your debts. You get your own house in order first.