By Hoppy Kercheval
With Gov. Jim Justice, there is frequently an element of the peculiar. There certainly was Monday when Justice called a news conference to say that his companies have paid their back taxes to the state of West Virginia.
Calling the press together to draw attention to a settling of one’s tax liability is, in and of itself, unusual.
However, perhaps Justice believed that he has taken so much heat over his companies’ finances that it would be best to try to set the record straight.
Notably, the governor was flanked by four members of his administration who were there to attest to Justice’s settling of accounts. Of course, all of those present work for the governor.
As MetroNews reporter Brad McElhinny reported, the governor was “flanked by regulators who serve as his employees.”
But even with Justice and all those regulators on hand, no one would answer the obvious questions: Exactly how much did the governor’s companies owe and how much was paid to the state? Additionally, did the state waive any penalties?
“I’m not at liberty to say the total amount or give you specific details because state code prohibits me from doing that,” said state Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy, “but I can say it resolves all outstanding issues with the state of West Virginia.”
He’s right that the state cannot release someone’s tax information, but Justice or his son, Jay, who now runs many of the family companies, could. For his part, Justice said he does not know the exact amount. “I know it’s millions of dollars,” he said.
Well, “millions” means a lot of money, at least by West Virginia standards. We may not have a right to know, but it would certainly go a long way in restoring the governor’s credibility as a savvy businessman.
Remember, Justice was elected, in part, because he was not a politician, but rather a businessman who, as he quoted his father as saying, had “done done it” when it came to successfully operating companies. He promised to bring that same business acumen to the governorship.
But we continue to hear stories of how some of Justice’s family companies fail to pay their bills and fall behind on taxes.
Frankly, it’s embarrassing for the state. Justice took a shot at the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Monday saying the paper hurts the state by printing bad news that “drives people away.”
The Gazette-Mail can defend itself. However, the governor misses the point. In his effort to emphasize what he believes is good news about settling his companies tax bills, he’s actually failed to fully address all the issues associated with the liens.
Before Justice criticizes others for damaging the state’s image, he may want to first remove the plank from his own eye.
Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at email@example.com.