Mayor Jim Suttle went to Washington Tuesday flush with ideas for how federal officials could help cities like Omaha pay for multibillion-dollar sewer projects.
Among the items on his brainstorming list: a proposal for a 10-cent federal tax on every roll of toilet paper you buy.
Based on the four-pack price for Charmin double rolls Tuesday at a midtown Hy-Vee, such a tax would add more than 10 percent to the per-roll price, pushing it over a buck.
The idea came from a failed 2009 House measure by an Oregon congressman to help cities and the environment.
“I heard about it and said, ‘Well, this is simple. Let's put it on the table,'” said Suttle. “It doesn't mean I endorse it.”
The mayor says Omaha needs help with the metro area's $1.7 billion bill for federally mandated sewer improvements. The work must be done by 2024.
Suttle talked about the mandate at a Tuesday meeting held by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He didn't mention the toilet paper tax but said later that he's open to that and other ways to cover the sewer bill.
“How are we affording this ... as we come out of the recession?” he asked.
Suttle plans to ask Nebraska's congressional delegation to ease the blow to Omaha and other cities. He'd like the federal government to cover half of the cities' costs, possibly with grants.
Whether the toilet paper tax has legs remains to be seen, but Omaha's large industries that balked under significant sewer rate increases are listening.
Julia Plucker, a lobbyist for Kellogg's and Skinner Baking, says food industries carry an unfair portion of the increases.
A toilet paper tax? Sure.
“I did chuckle when I first heard about it,” Plucker said. “But this is a serious problem. We would love to take a look at any more equitable solution.”