HINDMAN, Ky. – 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.