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State governments of the United States are institutional units in the United States exercising some of the functions of government at a level below that of the federal government. Each state’s government holds fiscal, legislative, and executive authority over a defined geographic territory.
See the fact file below for more information on the state governments or alternatively, you can download our 23-page State Government worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- The US Constitution guarantees each state a republican form of government — that is, a government run by popularly elected representatives of the people.
- State governments conform to the same patterns as the federal government, with an elected head of the executive branch (the governor), an independent judiciary, and a popularly elected legislative branch.
- State governments have primary responsibility for providing many important services that affect the everyday lives of their residents.
- Essentially, matters which lie entirely within state borders are the concern of state governments such as internal communications, regulations relating to property, industry, public amenities and infrastructure, education, and working conditions within the state.
- States have the power to make and enforce laws, levy taxes, and conduct their affairs largely free from intervention from the federal government or other states.
- In many aspects, states have an extensive role, but also share administrative responsibility with local and federal governments.
Structure of State Governments
- Executive Branch
- The executive branch of each state government is responsible for administering the day-to-day operations, providing services, and enforcing the law.
- It is led by a governor, elected through popular vote for a two- or four-year term, depending on the state.
- Other top executive officials who may be elected rather than appointed are the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, comptroller, and members of various boards and commissions.
- Positions not filled by election are usually filled by appointment by the governor.
- Legislative Branch
- All states have a bicameral, or two-house legislature, aside from Nebraska which has a unicameral legislature. The Upper House is called the Senate, in which members are elected every four years. The Lower House, also referred to as the House of Representatives, General Assembly, or House of Delegates, has members elected every two years.
- Primary duties of the legislature include enacting new laws, approving the state’s budget, confirming appointments to the executive or judicial branches, and conducting oversight of executive branch operations.
- In many smaller states, legislators serve part-time and receive only nominal compensation. They may meet just a few weeks or months of the year before returning to their full-time occupations.
- On the other hand, legislators in larger states serve year-round and receive compensation and benefits of a full-time job.
- Legislators do not solely hold legislative powers in a state government. In many states, citizens can also exercise legislative functions directly, usually requiring a number of signatures on a petition, subject for a general vote.
- Through an initiative, citizens can bypass legislature and pass laws or amend state constitution through a direct vote. Citizens can also call for a referendum, through which they can approve statutes or constitutional amendments. They can also remove elected officials from office through a recall.
- Judicial Branch
- State court systems have jurisdiction over matters not covered by federal courts, including most civil cases between parties in the same state, criminal cases where violations involve state or local laws, family law, and issues relating to the state constitution.
- The highest court in each state is the state supreme court or court of appeals. Justices are typically elected to lengthy terms, but do not serve for life.
- The high court usually has only appellate jurisdiction — reviewing decisions by lower courts — and its decisions in turn may be appealed to the US Supreme Court.
- The structure of lower state courts varies widely by state. Some states have separate courts for civil and criminal matters, and all states have some form of local municipal or county courts to handle minor offenses and small claims.
- Each state has its own constitution which it uses as a basis for legislation, with its basic structure resembling the US Constitution. It contains a preamble, a bill of rights, articles that delineate separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as a framework for setting up local governments.
- In contrast to the US Constitution, which is broadly written, state constitutions can be very detailed and specific. Many state constitutions go on for pages describing, for example, the rules for issuing bonds or defining the jurisdiction of various state courts.
- Oklahoma’s constitution, for example, has provisions that describe the correct temperature to test kerosene and oil. California has sections that describe everything that may be deemed tax-exempt, including specific organizations, and fruit and nut trees under four years of age.
- States are also largely free to exercise any power not prohibited to them. In order to effectively restrict state government powers, the restrictions must be spelled out in the state’s constitution.
- Finally, most states are required by their constitutions to have a balanced budget. Exceptions, such as borrowing to finance transportation or other construction projects, must be provided for in the constitution.
- A government’s revenue system is the entire means by which a government acquires funding. States rely on a broad range of revenue sources to fund government.
- On average, states generate more than one-third of their revenues from personal income taxes and another one-third from general sales taxes.
- The remaining revenues are split between excise taxes (on gasoline, cigarettes, and alcohol); corporate income and franchise taxes; and taxes on business licenses, utilities, insurance premiums, severance, property, and several other sources.
- That being said, the general character of a state or state and local revenue system is more important than the nature of any single one of its components.
State Government Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about state government across 23 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use State Government worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the state governments of the United States which are institutional units in the United States exercising some of the functions of government at a level below that of the federal government. Each state’s government holds fiscal, legislative, and executive authority over a defined geographic territory.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- The Basics
- Who Runs Our State?
- Who’s Got the Power?
- Raise Your Flag
- The Kid in Congress
- Lights, Camera, Politics
- Licensed to Design
- Rich State, Poor State
- Speak Up!
Link/cite this page
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Link will appear as State Government Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, February 5, 2019
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.