State and Local Government Chapters

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Module 5 (Chapter 6)

Chapter 6: State Legislatures

This chapter covers the following:

  • The Essence of Legislatures

  • Legislative Dynamics

  • Legislative Behavior

  • How a Bill Becomes Law (Or Not)

  • Legislative Reform and Capacity

  • Relationship with the Executive Branch

  • Legislatures and Capacity

After reading this chapter, students should be able to understand:

1. The legislative functions of policymaking, representation, and oversight.

2. The ideals and reality of legislative reform efforts in the recent past, how they have changed the legislative membership, and the genesis of present efforts to institute term limits.

3. The history of drawing legislative districts and the effects of recent court decisions.

4. The basic structure of state legislatures, their leadership, and their committee makeup.

5. The motives for legislative behavior.

6. How a bill becomes law in state legislatures.

7. The nature of executive-legislative relations in the states.

8. The concept of legislative oversight and the tools available to legislatures to control executive agencies.

9. The current issues that the nation’s state legislatures are addressing.

Legislatures engage in three main functions: policymaking, representation, and oversight of the

bureaucracy. During the first half of the century, legislatures were unprepared to deal with modern problems. The pay was too low, the sessions were too short, and the legislatures were understaffed.

Two factors shook legislatures out of their doldrums: federal court-mandated reapportionment, and the activities of private reform groups who promoted modernization of these state institutions.
Legislative reformers called for a legislature that was functional, accountable, informed, independent, and representative. A late 1960s evaluation of all state legislatures by one reform group, the Citizens’ Conference on State Legislatures, triggered extensive self-evaluation by legislatures around the country.
Later studies confirmed the significance of previously used evaluative criteria. Use of those same criteria in the 1990s showed that the top-ranked legislatures, with few exceptions, still rated highly and that a number of poorly rated legislatures had implemented reforms and have now moved to the middle of the pack. But public policy outputs of the states are a result of many legislative characteristics, and a variety of other factors, such as socioeconomic conditions and executive branch strength, shapes outcomes.
Today there are more full-time legislators, who bring expertise, and fewer part-time citizen legislators, who are probably more in touch with their communities. It is unclear whether increased professionalism resulting from the reform represents a victory. Concerns over the creation of a legislative leviathan have given rise to a phenomenon already affecting twenty-one states—namely, term limitation.
This device ends domination of the legislature by powerful veterans. With term limits, the distribution of power within the legislature will fluctuate more frequently, and could shift power away from the legislature and strengthen the governors.
Forty-nine states have bicameral legislatures, but Nebraska’s has been unicameral since 1934. The size of each house varies greatly, but the average senate has forty members and the typical lower house has one hundred. The political composition of state legislatures changes with each election. There are 7,382 legislators in the states. As of 2003, Democrats and Republicans were tied at about 50 percent each.
Men significantly outnumber women (78 percent versus 22 percent). African Americans hold 8 percent of all seats, Latinos 3 percent, and Asian Americans hold 1 percent of all seats. Native Americans hold one and a half percent of the seats in state legislatures.
Malapportionment went unchecked until the 1960s, but Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964) started a reapportionment fever in the 1960s and 1970s; it and the Voting Rights Act probably contributed to improving representation in the legislatures. State legislatures are reapportioned after the decennial United States census. Despite the “one person, one vote” court guidelines, gerrymandering still takes place after the census, and some states continue to use multimember districts that tend to work against the election of both partisan and

racial minorities.

Meanwhile, legislative compensation has increased handsomely in the last three decades.

Legislatures have their own way of doing things—their own formal and informal rules. The importance of seniority varies among the states, but it is crucial to build trust and avoid making enemies.

Consensus-building skills, too, are needed to progress into leadership positions. These rules make the legislative process flow smoothly; those who violate them, however, are subject to social and political sanctions. To survive, legislators must also learn how to take cues, as they will be subjected to heavy cross-pressures.
Some legislators are very sensitive to their district’s wishes and act as “delegates” by trying to carry out the will of the public. Other more experienced legislators often function as “trustees” and depend on their own best judgment. Still others may act as “politicos,” adjusting as issues and cues change, particularly as an election nears.
The governor and the legislature often collide in their policymaking roles, a circumstance that helps generate a consensus and, sometimes, a better solution. Where such conflict does exist, it is often greater in divided government states. In states where the same party controls both branches governors are quick to exploit their media advantage over the legislature. They have a powerful weapon in the veto. Yet governors with legislative experience often are able to avoid unnecessary conflicts with the legislature. And the legislature, for its part, can muster the votes to override the veto, cut the budget of the governor’s policy favorites, or in some states limit the power of the governor to transfer funds among executive branch agencies.
Legislatures do not leave control of the executive branch exclusively to the governors. They are involved in the oversight of the bureaucracy, too. They oversee policy and program evaluations, review rules and regulations, enact and monitor sunset legislation, and review and control federal funds received by the state. Legislators select auditors who evaluate performance of the agencies and seek to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. All legislatures play a role in reviewing administrative rules and regulations but vary greatly in their approach.
Some states employing a legislative veto have been found by the courts to violate the constitutional separation of powers. Those who have relied on this approach may have to return to the traditional use of the budgetary process to coerce agencies into taking advice on rules and regulations.
Half of the state legislatures have established sunset laws that set automatic expiration dates for agencies unless the legislature acts to extend the agency’s life. The process causes agencies to hew close to legislative intent. Additionally, legislatures now play a greater role in control of the reduced flow of federal funds by making it a part of the formal appropriations process. Finally, the legislature can fall back on a legislative investigation to discipline the executiveagencies.
In all, these forms of legislative oversight are seen from a governor’s perspective as meddling and undermining the separation of powers. Reform and modernization have increased legislatures’ capacity to carry out their three functions. In the process, legislators are more likely to consider themselves as full-time legislators and raise public concerns that have fostered term limits to prevent “congressionalization.”
Invigorated legislatures have expanded their dealings with the executive branch, and interinstitutional tensions have heated up.
Week 6 – Midterm
Module 6 (Chapters 7 and 8)
Chapter 7: Governors
This chapter covers the following:

  • The Roles of the Governor: Duties and Responsibilities

  • Formal Powers of the Governor

  • Informal Powers

  • Removal from Office

  • Other Executive Branch Officials

  • The Capability of U.S. Governors

After reading this chapter, students should be able to understand:

1. The newly created states’ reluctance to grant power to governors, the further weakening of

executive power under Jacksonian democracy, and twentieth-century efforts to empower the


2. The increasing quality and level of experience of recent governors and the demands placed on

them by their new role in reinvigorated states.

3. The reasons for and consequences of steadily rising costs of campaigns and the importance of

incumbency and party strength in capturing the state house.

4. The various roles of governors in state government.

5. The formal powers available to governors and how they vary from state to state.

6. The informal powers available to governors and the various ways governors may enhance those


7. The methods for removing governors from office.

8. The roles of other key elected state executive branch officials.

Today’s governors compare easily in responsibility and pressure with typical corporate CEOs. Yet they are paid less, subject to constant questioning by the media, subject to constant public criticism, and frequently the focus of media diatribes. Such public berating of governors is not new to politics, but is less warranted than in the past.
The excesses of the British colonial governors led to a distrust of executive power and to the creation of new state governments with weak executive authority. Gubernatorial authority increased slowly and was set back by Jacksonian democracy’s push for popular election of other state executive officials.
In the early 1900s, however, Progressive reformers, in an effort to improve the performance of state government, focused efforts on governors’ lack of power. Beginning around 1965, further efforts enhanced the capacity of governors to apply state resources to meet their increased duties and responsibilities.
Today’s governors are a far cry from the figureheads of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the backslapping, cigar-smoking, wheeler-dealers of the first half of the present century. Governors are younger, better educated, and better prepared by virtue of state government service at other levels.
White, Anglo-Saxon males still predominate, but among governors in recent years have been Hispanics, women, and an African American. During the 2002 elections, more women were running for governor than during any single election in the past. Factors such as the general attractiveness of the office, the withering away of party support, and the new technology of campaigning have raised the amount of money needed to win gubernatorial races.
Election costs are higher where the race is close, an effort is under way to unseat an incumbent, a shift in party control hangs in the balance, and a large, populous state is involved. There are signs that campaign cost-control efforts are succeeding, and the strongest influence on election outcomes remains the strength of a gubernatorial candidate’s party in the state’s electorate.
Nonetheless, being a high profile candidate with skills for raising money or being independently wealthy doesn’t hurt. Incumbency is also a particularly important aspect of the candidate’s profile, unless the incumbent is hampered by a poorly supported policy change, such as an unpopular tax increase.Since 1970, about 75 percent of the incumbent gubernatorial candidates have won their elections.
Governors must function in a number of different roles, among which is policymaker, chief legislator, chief administrator, ceremonial leader, intergovernmental coordinator, economic development promoter, and party leader. Some governors in their policymaking role assume national policymaking prominence and some suffer the consequences of unforeseeable events that have a disastrous effect on their reputations.
The chief legislator role is most time consuming and for many the most difficult as partisanship and personality clashes heat up the state house. Despite these difficulties, most governors

in recent years have managed to dominate their state’s agenda.

The formal powers specified in the state constitution vary greatly from state to state: some provide for “strong” governors, some for “weak” ones. Powers not expressly provided by law are informal powers. The principal formal powers of the governors are the length of tenure of the office, the power of appointment of state officials, the power to veto legislation, the responsibility for preparing the state’s budget, the authority to reorganize the executive branch, and the right to use professional staff in the governor’s office.
Reorganization power has been particularly important in recent years, as many states

have sought, by means of a cabinet structure, to reduce waste and inefficiency. In any event, the most successful governors are those who employ their informal powers to maximize formal ones. This synergism provides even greater effects and produces a particularly influential governor.

Some “weak” governors without many formal powers are very successful in meeting their goals. The informal powers include such tools as persuasion and leadership traits. Informal power is provided by popular support, prestige of the office, special sessions, pork barrel and patronage, public relations and media skills, negotiating and bargaining skills, and personal attributes such as youth, ambition, experience, and energy.
A number of factors make a successful governor, but studies suggest that age is the only statistically significant predictor of successful gubernatorial performance. Younger governors

have been more successful than older ones. There is, however, general agreement that leadership skills are important, though leadership traits are difficult to define.

A successful governor often wages a “never-ending campaign” to win the loyalty and support of his cabinet, state employees, and the legislature. Governors also know that they must focus their energies and powers of persuasion on a few key areas.
For the past thirty years the states have reformed their executive branches to enhance the role of the governor. That effort, coupled with the increased abilities of the candidates for the office, has led to greater vigor than ever before in American governorships. The state governorships have been transformed, and today’s governors are increasingly capable of helping solve the nation’s most serious policy problems.
Chapter 8: Public Administration: Budgeting and Service Delivery
This chapter covers the following:

  • Public Employees in State and Local Governments: Who They Are, What They Do

  • Budgeting in State and Local Government

  • Human Resource Policy in State and Local Government: From Patronage to Merit

  • The Politics of Bureaucracy

  • Reinventing Government

  • The Quality of Public Administration

After reading this chapter, students should be able to understand:
1. Why government bureaucracy has often been criticized and used as a scapegoat, although it has

improved the quality and capacity of state and local governments.

2. The nature of the operating and capital budgetary processes, the traditional actors in budgeting,

the five steps in the budget cycle, and the incremental nature of the budget process.

3. The origins of the federal merit system and its influence on state and local government personnel systems.

4. The challenge state and local governments face to maintain a personnel merit system at the same time they meet the challenges posed by affirmative action guidelines, cope with sexual harassment infractions, and react to efforts of government employees to unionize and seek collective bargaining rights.

5. How elected political officials and career bureaucrats deal with the difficult relationship between administration and politics at the same time the civil servants are granted bureaucratic discretion, and interact with clientele groups.

6. How state and local government bureaucracies are improving as a result of efforts to “reinvent

government,” add to the quality of agency efforts by encouraging competition via privatization,

and adopt new technologies (including the Internet and e-government) to enhance performance

and help agencies be more responsive to citizens’ needs.
State and local bureaucracies should not be scapegoats for all of the social, economic, and political maladies that befall us. The bureaucracy, the least understood of all political institutions, involves one out of six working Americans. In all there are more than 18.3 million state and local government employees. That number has grown steadily since 1929, even while federal employment has remained relatively stable since the end of World War II.
State and local government employees perform diverse tasks with a motivation and competence rivaling those of private-sector employees. Budget documents provide the hard dollars-and-cents answer to the question of who gets what, when, where, and how. The budget process is a zero-sum game:
For every winner there is a loser, because public resources are limited. Governmental budgeting is best understood as a cycle with five stages: preparation, formulation, adoption, execution, and audit. Forty-eight state legislatures are bound by constitutions or statutes to balance revenues and expenditures, and the requirements usually apply to local governments as well. With declining or stable revenues and rising demands, budget makers are left with an array of choices—all unpopular.
Typically budget making is not a rational process. Decision makers fall back on an incremental

approach that depends on some decision rules: The policy commitments of ongoing programs are

accepted as a given, and increases or decreases are a small percentage adjustment from the base.

Consequently, the future becomes an extension of the past. Historically, fiscal accountability has been the main purpose of budgeting, incrementalism the dominant process, and the line item budget the standard document.

Performance budgeting is one of several alternatives to the incremental approach

that is built into line item budgeting. It stresses management and planning in order to focus on results. Budgeting processes are used to manage annual operating expenses. Major, long-term expenditures, on the other hand, are managed by capital budgets and funded by selling general obligation or revenue bonds.

Federal actions have a pronounced effect on state and local personnel practices. Federal hiring practices that stemmed from use of the patronage system, loss of urban political power to new immigrants, and a backlash to the inept administration of President Ulysses S. Grant led to passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883. It established an objective, merit-based selection system for national job openings. “Neutral competence” became the primary criterion for a national government job, and by 1949 twenty-three states and a number of local governments had adopted their own merit-based systems. Now all states are required by national statutes to set up merit systems for agencies and departments partially funded by certain national grants-in-aid. Thirty-four states have comprehensive merit systems that encompass virtually all of their state employees.
On balance, state and local government employment systems have improved over the last twenty-five years as the states have experimented with pay for performance and other incentive plans, new performance appraisal systems, senior executive systems, comprehensive training programs, and the decentralization of personnel functions. All of these innovations are intended to ensure greater responsiveness to the chief executive, protect the merit system from those who would seek to use it for patronage, and improve the capacity of public officials to manage their agencies.
Furthermore, the states have now taken the lead in addressing threats to the merit system principles. Although the non national governments seek a work force that is representative of the community, controversy surrounds the use of affirmative action and the guidelines provided by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which are perceived as conflicting with the merit principle. At the same time, much of the official activity aimed at protecting government employees from sexual harassment has been concentrated in the states.
In an ideal world, elected political officials make all decisions regarding policymaking and administrators carry out those policies. In the real world, bureaucrats are intimately involved from design of legislation to implementation. They are often granted considerable bureaucratic discretion based on their knowledge and expertise.
Legal systems exist for hearings and action on disputes over agency rules and regulations. Clientele, often organized as pressure groups, exert considerable influence over bureaucratic behavior and the resources available to them by aligning themselves with the agency

and legislative committees in what are called “iron triangles.” Politics and administration are sometimes incompatible as administrators attempt to base their actions on neutral, professional competence and not on the politics of favoritism.

The dilemma facing state and local administrators lies in being responsive to the general public interest even as they listen to their superiors, elected officials, clientele groups, and public interest groups and are mindful of the dictates of constitutions and statutes. The concept of bureaucratic responsiveness can be thought of as falling into three categories: objective responsibility, which may be measured in legal terms; subjective responsibility, which involves a sense of moral obligation; and professional responsibility, which depends on expertise and standards established by the given profession.
As the proportion of professionals in state and local government has risen, the importance of this source of influence on the bureaucracy has increased. A strong case can be made that professionalism encourages bureaucratic responsiveness, but critics fear that professionals view the public interest in a very limited and self-serving way.
With growth in the number of state and local government employees, citizen dissatisfaction with government has reached new heights. Out of that dissatisfaction new strategies have been sought. One of them is a far-reaching approach called reinventing government, which calls for entrepreneurial results-oriented governments. Many people in government have enthusiastically accepted it, but the notion of transforming governments in this fashion has not been without its critics.
Additionally, egovernment, which allows citizens to access government via the Internet or telephone, has become standard government practice in the new century. In short, the idea of e-government is to make government more accessible and user-friendly.
Despite the chorus of criticisms of state and local government bureaucracies, much of it is misplaced. Quality has improved markedly as innovation and capacity building have transformed public administration and increased its ability to support the resurgence of the states and revitalization of local governments.
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