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Led by strong income tax and severance tax collection, April revenue numbers of $535.33 million exceeded estimates by $23.7 million and topped April 2017 collection by $31.55 million.

Strong numbers for April — a crucial month for tax collection because of income tax payments — pushed budget year-to-date collection to $3.497 billion, or just $4.87 million under estimates, short by one-tenth of 1 percent. With two months left in the budget year, that puts the state on pace to collect a record $4.225 billion in taxes.

Following three years of budget shortfalls and extended budget impasses, the numbers were so good that Gov. Jim Justice took the liberty Friday of announcing them at a news conference, eschewing the traditional monthly conference call by the Department of Revenue.

“We’ve been beat down too long. We are racking it. We are absolutely racking it right now, and we need to be telling our story,” Justice said at the news conference that was part celebratory and part lecture to a news media that Justice considers overly critical.

For instance, when a reporter asked if an increase of 6,900 jobs statewide since March 2017 might be temporary, since half the increase is in construction jobs, Justice responded, “Can you ask a nice question, something that’s happy?”

Justice’s chief of staff, Mike Hall, jumped on that bandwagon, citing an announcement Friday by Fitch Ratings raising the state’s fiscal outlook from “negative” to “stable.”

“You in the fifth estate have an obligation,” Hall said, apparently misstating a reference to the media as the fourth estate. “We ought to be extremely happy the watching world, the New York Wall Street firms that look at us, are saying, ‘This state is at the top of the heap.’ We need to tell that story. You need to tell that story.”

Indeed, Justice opened the news conference ostensibly on state revenue with an extended diatribe about reporters calling his office Friday regarding a Division of Tourism photo contest winner featuring a number of black bears in a clearing, raising issues as to whether the bears were illegally baited into the shot using a pile of corn visible in the picture.

“At times, we are our own worst enemy,” Justice complained. “Sometimes, how we report, how we tell a story, leads us down a path that’s sometimes not the best path for us.”

He said of the news media inquiries, “It’s insinuating that either that little boy or myself is doing something inappropriate to the bears.”

While Justice has been highly critical of coverage by some state news outlets, he has not emulated President Donald Trump in denouncing unfavorable coverage as being “fake news.”

Also during the news conference:

  • After alluding to financial difficulties his private businesses had suffered in the coal downturn, Justice said his companies will be paying all unpaid state taxes owed “in a matter of days.”

“We’ll be able to report to you that every single tax owed by any of my affiliates in West Virginia are paid, and are paid in full,” he said.

Most recently, the state Tax Department filed liens of more than $2.9 million against Justice’s Tams Management Inc., and a 2016 report by National Public Radio determined that Justice’s mining companies owe a total of $15 million in taxes in six states.

Justice said Friday that delaying payments was preferable to taking the easier alternative of filing bankruptcy, as he noted multiple mining companies have done in recent years.

  • Justice said he is leaning toward calling a special session of the Legislature to coincide with legislative interim meetings, May 20-22, to consider revisions to the state’s newly passed sports betting law, and to create a Department of Arts to replace the Department of Education and the Arts that will be eliminated June 30, under legislation passed during the regular session.

Justice said he will be meeting with representatives of professional sports organizations next week to discuss changing the new law to incorporate an integrity fee that would pay a portion of sports betting revenue to the sports leagues. Legislators soundly rejected overtures to impose such a fee during debate on the bill in the regular session.

  • Justice said he still favors legislation to impose tiered severance tax rates on natural gas and coal, to provide higher tax collection when energy prices are high, and provide tax breaks when the market slumps.
  • Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy said plans are proceeding to go to market with an $800 million road bond issue by the end of the month.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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