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Massachusetts Government Structure
The government of the Commonwealth is divided into three branches: the Executive branch, the bicameral Legislature consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate and the Judiciary.
Chief Elected Positions
The Governor is the chief executive officer of the Commonwealth.
The Lieutenant Governor is elected along with the Governor. The two work closely together to address important day to day administrative functions of the Commonwealth.
Also referred to as the “Governor’s Council,” this body consists of eight members who are elected to two-year terms in even-numbered years. The Executive Council is responsible for the confirmation of certain gubernatorial appointments, particularly judges, and must approve all warrants (other than for debt service) prepared by the Comptroller for payment by the State Treasurer.
The Governor’s Cabinet is comprised of eight gubernatorial appointees who assist the Governor in administration and policy making. Each cabinet secretary serves as the chief executive of their respective executive office.
The eight Cabinet Secretariats are:
- Executive Office for Administration and Finance;
- Executive Office of Education;
- Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs;
- Executive Office of Health and Human Services;
- Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development;
- Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development;
- Executive Office of Public Safety and Security; and
- Massachusetts Department of Transportation
Secretary of Administration and Finance
The Secretary of Administration and Finance is the Governor’s chief fiscal officer. The activities of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance fall within six broad categories:
- Administrative and fiscal supervision, primarily the implementation of the Commonwealth’s annual budget and monitoring of all agency expenditures during the fiscal year in accordance with published long-term fiscal policies;
- State tax law enforcement and collection of tax revenues through the Department of Revenue for remittance to the State Treasurer;
- Human resource management, the administration of the state personnel system, civil service system and employee benefit programs and negotiation of collective bargaining agreements with certain members of the Commonwealth’s public employee unions;
- Capital facilities management, coordination and oversight of the construction, management and leasing of all state facilities;
- State 5-year capital plan development and implementation, including state debt affordability policies; and
- General government administration, including operational services and information technology services.
Of note, the Secretary of Administration and Finance serves as Chairperson of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, co-chairs the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and serves as a member of numerous other state boards and commissions.
Secretary of Education
The Secretary of Education directs the Executive Office of Education and works closely with the Commonwealth’s education agencies – Department of Early Education and Care, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Department of Higher Education and the University of Massachusetts system - while serving as a voting member of the governing board of all four education agencies. The Secretary is the Governor’s top advisor on education and helps shape the Commonwealth’s education reform agenda, including closing the achievement gap.
Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs
The Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs manages the only state Cabinet-level office in the country that oversees both environmental and energy agencies. The Secretary develops and implements policies that safeguard public health from environmental threats, preserve the natural resources of the Commonwealth and ensure affordable and clean energy across Massachusetts.
Secretary of Health and Human Services
The Secretary of Health and Human Services administers the largest secretariat of the Commonwealth and works to achieve the highest levels of health and well-being for all residents of Massachusetts. As the Governor’s top health care advisor, the Secretary plays an intricate role in developing health care cost containment strategies.
Secretary of Housing and Economic Development
The Secretary of Housing and Economic Development is the Governor’s chief economic development and housing advisor and cabinet member, and is responsible for helping achieve the Governor’s top priorities, including strengthening and accelerating our economic recovery by supporting job creation in every region of the state. The Secretary oversees the Commonwealth’s business development, housing and community development and consumer affairs agencies.
Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development
The Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development enhances the quality, diversity and stability of the Commonwealth's workforce. This is done through workforce training, providing temporary assistance when employment is interrupted and promoting labor-management partnerships. The Secretary also manages the Joint Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification, working with state officials across state government to combat workplace fraud and protect exploited workers.
Secretary of Public Safety and Security
The Secretary of Public Safety and Security is responsible for the policy development and budgetary oversight of secretariat agencies, independent programs and several boards which aid in crime prevention, homeland security preparedness, youth violence prevention and ensuring the safety of residents and visitors in the Commonwealth.
Secretary of Transportation
The Secretary of Transportation leads an organization that operates with a single mission: to provide a safe, reliable and efficient transportation network for residents of the Commonwealth. The Secretary chairs a five-member Board of Directors appointed by the Governor with expertise in transportation, finance and engineering, and oversees four divisions: Highway, Mass Transit, Aeronautics and the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).
The State Comptroller is responsible for administering and ensuring lawful and reasoned accounting policies and practices. Among the Comptroller’s responsibilities are the publication of official financial reports, the management of the state accounting system and the oversight of fiscal management functions within all state agencies and departments. The Comptroller is appointed by the Governor for a term coterminous with the Governor’s and may be removed by the Governor only for just cause.
The annual financial reports of the Commonwealth, single audit reports and any rules and regulations published by the Comptroller must be reviewed by an advisory board. This board is chaired by the Secretary of Administration and Finance and includes the State Treasurer, the Attorney General, the State Auditor, the Chief Administrative Justice of the Trial Court and two persons with relevant experience appointed by the Governor for three-year terms. The Commonwealth’s audited annual reports include financial statements on both the statutory basis of accounting (the Statutory Basis Financial Report, or SBFR) and the General Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) basis (the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR).
Elected Constitutional Officers
Treasurer and Receiver-General
More commonly referred to as the State Treasurer, this individual has four primary statutory responsibilities:
- Collection of all state revenues, with the exception of agency-held funds;
- Management of both short-term and long-term investments of Commonwealth funds (excluding state employee and teacher pension funds), including all cash receipts;
- Disbursement of Commonwealth monies and oversight of reconciliation of the state’s accounts; and
- Issuance of almost all debt obligations of the Commonwealth, including notes, commercial paper and long-term bonds.
In addition to these responsibilities, the State Treasurer serves as Chairperson of the Massachusetts Lottery Commission, the State Board of Retirement, the Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust and the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The State Treasurer also serves as a member of numerous other state boards and commissions, including the Municipal Finance Oversight Board.
Secretary of the Commonwealth
The Secretary of the Commonwealth, commonly referred to as the Secretary of State, is responsible for collection and storage of public records and archives, securities regulation, state elections, administration of state lobbying laws and custody of the seal of the Commonwealth.
The Attorney General is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Attorney General represents the Commonwealth in all legal proceedings in both the state and federal courts, including defending the Commonwealth in actions in which a state law or executive action is challenged. The office also brings actions to enforce environmental and consumer protection statutes, among others, and represents the Commonwealth in public utility and automobile rate-setting procedures. The Attorney General works in conjunction with the general counsels of the various state agencies and executive departments to coordinate and monitor all pending litigation.
The State Auditor provides independent and objective evaluations of the Commonwealth’s financial and operational activities. The State Auditor is charged with improving the efficiency of state government by auditing the administration and expenditure of public funds and reporting the findings to the public. The State Auditor reviews the activities and operations of approximately 750 state entities and verifies contract compliance of private vendors doing business with the Commonwealth.
The 11 elected Massachusetts District Attorneys and their combined staffs of 1,500 employees, including 700 prosecutors and 250 victim-witness advocates, are responsible for prosecuting approximately 300,000 cases annually.
The 14 elected Massachusetts State Sheriffs have various county-based responsibilities, including law enforcement, the care and custody of inmates and detainees, judicial services, transportation of prisoners, recidivism, officer training and inmate reentry programming.
The Legislature (officially called the General Court) is the bicameral legislative body of the Commonwealth, consisting of a 40-member Senate and a 160-member House of Representatives. Members of the Senate and the House are elected to two-year terms in even-numbered years. Each General Court meets for a two-year period. January of 2013 marked the start of the 188th General Court, which runs through January of 2015. The joint rules of the House and Senate require all formal business to be concluded by the end of July in even-numbered years and by the third Wednesday in November in odd-numbered years. The two legislative branches work concurrently on pending laws brought before them.
Lawmaking begins in the House or Senate Clerk's office where petitions, accompanied by bills, resolves, etc., are filed and recorded in a docket book. The clerks number the bills and assign them to appropriate joint committees. There are over 20 of these committees, each responsible for studying the bills which pertain to a specific area (i.e., taxation, education, health care, insurance, etc.), and each committee is composed of senators and representatives.
The standing committees schedule public hearings for the individual bills, which afford residents, legislators and lobbyists the opportunity to express their views. Committee members meet at a later time in executive session to review the public testimony and discuss the merits of each bill before making their recommendations to the full membership of the House or Senate. The committee then issues its report, recommending that a bill "ought to pass", "ought not to pass" or "as changed" and the report is submitted to the Clerk's office.
All legislation proposing an increase in taxes or a new tax must originate within the House of Representatives. Once a tax bill is originated by the House and forwarded to the Senate for consideration, the Senate may amend it. All bills are presented to the Governor for approval or veto. The Legislature may override the Governor’s veto of any bill by a two-thirds vote of each house. The Governor also has the power to return a bill to the chamber of the Legislature in which it was originated with a recommendation that certain amendments be made. Such a bill is then brought before the Legislature and is subject to amendment or re-enactment, at which point the Governor may still veto the bill but has no further right to return the bill with a recommendation to amend.
The judicial branch of state government is composed of the Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court and the Trial Court. The Supreme Judicial Court has original jurisdiction over certain cases and hears appeals from both the Appeals Court, which is an intermediate appellate court, and in some cases, directly from the Trial Court. The Supreme Judicial Court is authorized to render advisory opinions on certain questions of law to the Governor, the Legislature and the Governor’s Council. Judges of the Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court and the Trial Court are appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Governor’s Council, to serve until the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.
Independent Authorities and Agencies
The Legislature has established a number of independent authorities and quasi-public agencies within the Commonwealth, the budgets of which are not included in the Commonwealth’s annual budget. These include the Commonwealth Connector Authority, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), individual Regional Transit Authorities and other entities. Budgetary information can be requested directly from these agencies.
All territory in the Commonwealth lies within one of the 351 incorporated cities and towns that exercise the functions of local government, which include public safety, fire protection and public construction. Cities and towns or established regional school districts provide elementary and secondary education. In addition to schools, various local and regional districts administer water, wastewater and certain other governmental functions. Cities are governed by one of many nuanced variations of the mayor-and-council or manager-and-council form. Most towns place executive power in a board of three or five selectmen elected to one or three-year terms, and they retain legislative powers in the voters themselves, who assemble in periodic open or representative town meetings.
Municipal revenues consist of taxes on real and personal property, distributions from the Commonwealth under a variety of programs and formulas, local receipts (including motor vehicle excise taxes, local option taxes, fines, licenses and permits, charges for utility and other services and investment income) and appropriations from other available funds (including general and dedicated reserve funds). Because property tax levies are limited by Proposition 2½, an initiative petition approved by the voters in 1980, local governments have become increasingly reliant on distribution of revenues from the Commonwealth to support local programs and services (commonly known as “local aid”). The amount of local aid varies significantly among municipalities.
The cities and towns of the Commonwealth are organized into 14 counties; county government has been abolished in seven of those counties. The county governments that remain are responsible principally for the operation of courthouses and registries of deeds. Where county government has been abolished, the functions, duties and responsibilities of the government have been transferred to the Commonwealth, including all employees, assets, valid liabilities and debts.
The organizational chart identifies the present structure of state government and its constituent agencies.
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