Tuesday, April 23, 2019

West Virginia's Deadbeat, Absentee Governor


The state of West Virginia recently had the dubious honor of seeing its governor as the subject of a Forbes article - an article that definitely was not kind to Jim Justice.

The Forbes piece is hardly the first time the media has reported on Justice's tendency to avoid paying fines, taxes and settlements. Such stories circulated long before he was elected governor... patterns of misbehavior that have made him a pariah in government and business circles.

Justice has said, “I’m a believer in the way I try to run things, which is if you have XYZ company and it has an obligation, then XYZ needs to handle that and is not going to run from it.”

The problem with his statement is that all he and his companies seem to do is "run from it".

According to Forbes' research, "Since 2016 courts have ordered Justice and his companies to pay more than $10 million to more than a dozen suppliers, workers and government entities. Over the same time, his companies also piled up $13 million-plus in tax liens. He claims to have paid off many of these. Still looming: another $60 million in potential damages in a civil case awaiting final judgment, plus up to $3 million in fines in Kentucky. And then there’s mine reclamation. By federal law, when a surface mine closes, the operator has to restore the landscape. Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy estimates that Justice’s coal companies face $200 million in reclamation liabilities."

Justice has rebutted the Forbes story, calling it a hit piece and blaming former president Barack Obama and former WV governor Joe Manchin for all the state's woes that only he has had the guts to try and fix. Indeed, "not my fault" is heard so often from Jim Justice it sounds like a slogan on a TV commercial.

Last year, Justice proudly announced that his delinquent taxes in West Virginia were paid up. As he slapped himself on the back, however, he failed to mention he still owed millions of dollars in taxes to the state of Kentucky, and was liable for millions more in mine reclamation liabilities and lawsuit settlements in various states.

Justice has steadfastly refused to place his companies in a blind trust, claiming his kids are running things while he is in the governor's mansion. And speaking of the governor's mansion, he is actually seldom in the building, or even in Charleston for that matter.

The West Virginia Constitution requires the governor to reside in the capital. Jim Justice is virtually a ghost in Charleston, spending the majority of his time in Lewisburg, where he has a home. A recent lawsuit filed in order to force Justice to move claims the governor "has not resided at the seat of government for more than 10 days from January 16, 2017" through the date of the petition, which is dated Tuesday, June 19.

Justice has said he works hard on the state's behalf, no matter where he's working from. In an interview with the Gazette Mail, he once again patted himself on the back for keeping his nose to the grindstone.

"I work more than any human being that you have ever known in your life. Every day, every single day, I work more than anybody you will ever know."

The governor works so hard he often forgets to pay vendors for his companies. Suppliers of coal-mining equipment, legal firms and many others have taken Justice to court seeking payment. They generally end up having to settle for far less than what they are owed as Justice's lawyers literally wear them out in court with foot-dragging tactics.

Ironically, during the 2016 gubernatorial campaign, state Democrats rushed to Justice's defense when Republicans attacked him for his history of being a deadbeat. (Justice ran for office as a Democrat.) The tables have turned since Justice flipped back to Republican nearly immediately after taking office. Republicans by and large stick up for him while the Democrats condemn him.

Assistant Minority Whip Delegate Isaac Sponaugle probably put it best: “In life, if you don’t show up to work and pay your bills or taxes, then you’re called a deadbeat. Currently in West Virginia, you’re called ‘Governor’.”

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