In the Age if Trump, Voters Don't Mind

A 'billionaire' should be embarrassed to let schools, local governments, vendor bills go

Charleston Gazette-Mail

Resort owner and girls basketball coach, billionaire Gov. Jim Justice, is a calamity. His mining firms have a dismal record of unpaid fines, taxes, penalties and debts across several states.

This month, a federal judge approved two consent judgements requiring Justice's Greenbrier resort and Old White Charities, the nonprofit that puts on The Greenbrier Classic PGA golf tournament, to pay two companies for services and equipment, as the Gazette-Mail's Jake Zuckerman reported.

Special Event Service and Rental, of Tennessee, said in federal court that The Greenbrier borrowed equipment that was damaged in the June 2016 flood. A federal judge approved a consent judgement requiring the resort and the nonprofit to pay almost $623,000 and more than $44,000 in interest to the company. Another order requires Old White Charities to pay Select Event Group Inc., of Maryland, almost $754,000 for equipment and services, rising to a total of $820,000 with interest and legal fees.

There is a $9.4 million judgment against one of the governor's coal firms for a huge loan in Kentucky, court reporter Lacie Pierson revealed Monday.

Also, a claim for $950,000 was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Charleston against a Justice company, Kentucky Fuel Corp., for an alleged debt to an out-of-state firm.

Meanwhile, Albemarle County, Virginia, is threatening to auction nearly $24 million worth of Justice-owned land if he doesn't pay $148,000 in delinquent taxes.

Last month, Kentucky authorities said Justice firms owe $2.9 million in overdue property taxes in several counties.

The West Virginia Tax Department says another Justice firm, Tams Management, owes a similar $2.9 million in the Mountain State. Hardly a month passes without a new debt accusation.

In 2016, federal records listed James C. Justice II as operator of 154 coal mines, preparation plants and other facilities in several states. In 2017, many of those properties were transferred to his son, James "Jay" Justice III, and daughter, Jill Justice, a physician. Currently, only 39 facilities are held by the governor. Nearly all the properties are dormant, in limbo.

Forbes magazine estimates Justice's worth at $1.7 billion. Why can't he catch up on his bills — especially property taxes that support public schools?

In Kentucky, as in West Virginia, property taxes fund important local services, such as sheriffs and health departments. Most property tax money goes to education, or at least it does when it is collected.

"West Virginia's governor should be a better neighbor," says an editorial from the Lexington Herald-Leader.

In Kentucky's Knott County, West Virginia's billionaire governor owes the people $1.92 million in delinquent property taxes. The county had an annual education budget of $30 million, until recent years, when tumbling coal property values cost it about $1 million a year. After cutting the budget, the school system is still trying to close a $100,000 budget shortfall, and turning to the state legislature for help.

The Herald-Leader notes that Gov. Justice changed his mind and supported a 5 percent pay raise for West Virginia teachers after a sixth-grader inspired him to think about "education as an investment."

"Now if only a sixth-grader from Knott County could bump into the billionaire coal operator/resort owner and urge him to make good on the more than $1 million in delinquent taxes that one of Justice's coal companies owes the struggling Eastern Kentucky school district," the editorial says.

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