What is a State Government? - Definition & Overview

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  • 0:00 Definition of a State…
  • 1:26 Who Is Part of the…
  • 3:24 Conflicts with the…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Learn about state governments and their role in the political life of a nation. Discover who has political power in a state government and observe the potential conflicts between state government and national government.

Definition of a State Government

A state government is a unit of government that specifically makes and enforces laws for a state. Several modern nations, such as the United States, Australia, and India, utilize state governments to administer to the local needs of an area. In modern nations, state governments have certain reserved powers, specific powers and responsibilities that the national government does not have.

Typically, state governments are responsible for administering to the local needs and problems of a particular state or region. The powers and responsibilities of state governments are usually laid out in a state constitution. In the United States, each of the fifty states has a state constitution that spells out who has power, how the power is shared, how policy can be made, what rights the citizens of the state have, and how elections are conducted. State constitutions tend to be more specific than national constitutions because the states tend to deal with more narrowly focused interests.

In general, state governments are responsible for regulating trade within state borders and for establishing regulations for local corporations. State governments also administer to the needs of the many smaller local governments by establishing charters for county and city government. State governments play a strong role in regulating the educational system of their states and establishing licensing rules for professionals who practice in the state.

Who Is Part of the State Government?

So who is involved in the state government?

Most states have a governor, who acts as the head of the state's executive branch. In the United States, most state governors serve for four years at a time. Like U.S. presidents, state governors serve as the ceremonial leader of the state government, presiding over major state events and representing their state around the nation. The governor is also the head of the state political party. Usually, members of legislature in the governor's party follow the cues of the governor in supporting or opposing particular pieces of legislation. The governor manages the state government, and during times of disaster or crisis, the governor will generally take charge and direct response-and-relief efforts. In most states, the governor is also the primary author of the state budget, although the legislature is responsible for approving the budget.

States often also have a state legislature that is responsible for exercising legislative authority. In forty-nine of the fifty United States, the state legislature, like the U.S. Congress, is bicameral meaning that there are two houses, a state House of Representatives and a state Senate. Nebraska is the only state in the United States that have a unicameral, or one house state legislature. State legislatures are responsible for making laws that affect their state. State legislatures also share power over the budget with the state governor's office.

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