HINDMAN, Ky. (AP) — Jim Justice, a coal billionaire running for West Virginia governor, owes millions in back taxes to some of Appalachia’s most impoverished counties, including one in Kentucky that is struggling to pay the debt on a new rec center and has turned the lights off in its parks and reduced hot meals for senior citizens.
Many of these counties have been devastated by the collapse of the coal industry over the past few years, and their financial struggles are not all Justice’s fault. But county officials say things would be a lot easier if he paid up.
“It’s just absurd that a billionaire wouldn’t pay his taxes,” fellow Democrat Zach Weinberg, the top elected official in Kentucky’s Knott County, said as he thumbed through a folder of Justice’s debts.
Justice, who is leading in the polls, makes no apologies for the debt owed by some of his coal companies, saying he is doing everything he can to keep his businesses running and workers employed while other companies go under.
One of the biggest chunks of money owed is in Knott County, where Justice has unpaid taxes of $2.3 million dating to tax year 2014. That’s a substantial hole, given the county government’s $10 million budget and its separate $23 million school budget.
Justice has other unpaid tax bills scattered across the hills and hollows of eastern Kentucky: $1.2 million in Pike County, $500,000 in Floyd County, $228,300 in Magoffin County and $167,600 in Harlan County, according to county officials.
He also has millions in West Virginia state tax liens against his companies. Because of privacy laws, the state won’t say whether he is paying them back.
The Associated Press has reported previously on Justice’s debts to coal suppliers and contractors, and a recent National Public Radio report compiled a list of Justice company debts, including back taxes and mine safety fines totaling $15 million.