John Volpe, the Visionary?
I am puzzled after reading Martin Nolan’s encomium to John Volpe in the Sunday 12/7 Globe. I don’t see that he makes a case for Volpe as visionary. When I recall Volpe’s political career the first thing that come to mind is his advocacy of the sales tax, the first new broad tax in many decades. This might be termed “notable,” but hardly “visionary.
The story in a nutshell. In the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a huge battle over taxes. The left wanted to amend the Mass. Constitution to allow a progressive income tax modeled after the federal system. Republicans were pushing a sales tax. (Republicans pushing a new tax? OMG!) It was a classic class struggle and raged on for years. Volpe was opposed by Senate President Maurice Donohue, a labor guy when it was OK to be such, and, arguably one of the best Senate presidents ever. And finally, the Republicans won. Governor John Volpe signed into law the regressive 3% sales tax in 1966. And a progressive Massachusetts income tax was in the dustbin of history. Nolan never mentions this.
Marty Nolan tries to make a case that Volpe, as Nixon’s Secretary of Transportation, turned against big highway construction, but it’s weak. As Volpe was leaving Washington to become ambassador to Italy, his family business, Volpe Construction Company, began construction of a new Department of Transportation building. The purest of coincidences, I’m sure. Ah, those visionaries!