By KEN WARD JR.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While revenue shortfalls continue to worsen West Virginia’s government funding dilemma, Gov. Jim Justice’s family coal business is running up more unpaid state taxes, according to records on file at the Kanawha County Courthouse.
Since mid-March, state Tax Department officials have filed four new liens in Kanawha County that cite nearly $1 million in taxes, interest and penalties that haven’t been paid by Tams Management Inc., one of the Justice family companies.
In all, the liens cover $971,928.15 in bills Tams Management owes the state for taxes, interest and penalties.
The governor and his political spokesmen insisted during last year’s campaign — and since the election — that the governor always pays what he owes, comments that were echoed in a brief statement issued Wednesday by an in-house lawyer for James C. Justice Companies Inc.
“Tams Management and its affiliates have been and remain committed to honoring all their tax obligations, and this time will be no different,” the statement said.
Grant Herring, the governor’s press secretary, did not respond to requests for comment about the latest tax liens. Instead, the Governor’s Office issued a news release that continued the governor’s criticism of the Republican-controlled Legislature’s refusal to go along with all of Justice’s economic development proposals.
“Until the Legislature can learn to think big, like I do, we’ll never see the economic comeback the people of West Virginia deserve,” the governor said in the release.
The Governor’s Office has indicated that Justice has turned over day-to-day management of the family’s mining operations to his son, James C. Justice III. Records at the Secretary of State’s Office list James C. Justice III as president of Tams Management. The governor’s daughter, Dr. Jillean L. Justice, is listed as a director of Tams Management.
In the months before last year’s gubernatorial primary, Tams Management was in the news when a federal judge in Beckley ruled against the company in a $2 million royalty dispute related to the name of a mine.
Gov. Justice has a history of unpaid bills, safety fines and taxes, and a major investigation by National Public Radio disclosed in early October 2016, just weeks before Justice won the general election, that those bills at the time totaled more than $15 million.
As part of its multi-state examination of tax records, the NPR report documented four tax liensfiled against Tams Management in Kanawha County over unpaid state taxes that amounted to just less than $1.4 million at the time. A tax lien is basically a government claim placed on property when a business or individual does not pay taxes that are owed.
As of Thursday morning, the Kanawha County records show that only one of those liens had been “released,” an indication that the Tax Department considered the $84,000 covered by it to have been paid. That left liens in place covering nearly $1.3 million in state taxes, mostly coal severance taxes that are imposed on the mining of coal.
Also, the Kanawha County records now show a lien that was filed on Oct. 26, 2016, about three weeks after the NPR report, that cited another more than $600,000 in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties owed by Tams Management.
And the records now include four other liens that were filed in March, May and June of this year citing the nearly $1 million in additional unpaid taxes, interest and penalties. The new liens are for taxes for 2016 and early 2017, according to the courthouse records.
The existing liens — those in the NPR report and those filed since then — cite a total of $2.9 million in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties — roughly twice the amount listed in the Kanawha County liens that were exposed by the NPR investigation last October.
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