A $40 million tax refund to a utility was canceled today by the Nevada Supreme Court because a state Tax Commission vote for the refund was taken in an illegal closed-door meeting.
The high court's unanimous ruling went against Southern California Edison and overturned a Carson City District Court decision that dismissed a lawsuit against the Tax Commission.
"When considering Edison's (refund) appeal, the Tax Commission deliberated entirely in closed session and voted in closed session," Justice Jim Hardesty wrote. "Therefore, its action granting Edison's refund was taken in violation of the Open Meeting Law. Actions taken in violation of the Open Meeting Law are void."
The Tax Commission ruling " which would have given some Nevadans a break on utility bills if it stood " exempted Southern California Edison from $40 million in sales taxes that otherwise would have been due on coal it burned between 2001 and 2003 in a now-closed southern Nevada power plant.
The law governing Tax Commission proceedings was changed by the 2007 Legislature as a result of the refund controversy. Now, the commission can close a hearing to review proprietary or confidential information " but a taxpayer no longer can simply demand a closed proceeding.
Lawyers for the utility said the 2007 legislation supported the Tax Commission's position in the refund dispute " although that argument has been disputed by key lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, who said the lawmakers weren't supporting either side.
Under the new legislation, a taxpayer can request a closed hearing and the commission then evaluates whether some information being submitted should be protected.
But when the Tax Commission heard the Edison case, Hardesty said the panel "could only close sessions in a taxpayer's appeal to receive confidential evidence, and question the parties, and hear argument concerning that evidence."