State Government: Organization, Responsibilities & Federal Controls

State Government: Organization, Responsibilities & Federal Controls
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  • 0:01 States and Government
  • 0:41 Organization and Duties
  • 2:21 State vs. Federal Power
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the balance of power between the federal government and state governments and discover how state governments operate. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

States and Government

We have a government. It's in Washington D.C., and consists of a president, Congress, and the Supreme Court. We also have states. Fifty of them, to be exact. The federal government controls the states. But our states also have governments of their own. What gives?

The United States is a federalist republic, meaning the states have the power to create their own local laws. The federal government is expected to respect the decisions of the states, as long as they're not violating national laws. So, a state can set their own taxes, but cannot suddenly make grand theft a legal action.

Organization and Duties

State governments are, like the federal government, republics. This means that people elect representatives to run the government. Just like the United States has a national constitution, each state also writes its own constitution. These constitutions outline the laws and powers of that state.

State governments are also based on the federal government and are divided into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The judicial branch is run by the state supreme court and enforces laws of the state. The legislative branch is run by elected representatives in the state legislature, which makes laws. The head of the executive branch is an elected official called the governor. So, states are really set up like miniature versions of the United States.

State governments are responsible for overseeing the daily administration of that state. While the federal government is concerned with major, national issues, state governments can focus much more on the specific issues that matter to their people.

This is important, since different states have different needs. Arizona is much more concerned with water issues than a state like Florida. Florida, on the other hand, has different needs for law enforcement than a state with a lower population like Montana. Every state has specific needs, and state governments see that those needs receive the political attention they deserve. By collecting taxes and managing state budgets, the state government can fix roads, build parks, fund libraries, create police and fire departments, and generally maintain the well-being of the citizens in that state.

State vs. Federal Power

In the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, states are given all power that is not given to the federal government. This means that states were originally intended to be pretty powerful, kind of like miniature nations. Their only real restrictions were that they could not directly contradict federal laws. This changed over time. As the federal government grew more and more powerful, they passed more federal laws and restricted the ability of states to make their own decisions on several issues. Still, states have a fair amount of power and control how things are run inside the states themselves.

For example, back before women were allowed to vote in the United States, the state of Wyoming gave women the right to vote in 1890. This was directly opposite from federal policy, but women within the state of Wyoming could vote on state issues, such as elections for state officials like the governor. Similarly, many states in the West voted to ban the sale of alcohol many years before the federal government outlawed alcohol in 1920. In this situation, states decided that something that was legal on a national level was illegal on a state level.

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