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US Power System: How Federal and Local Governments Work

Federal laws in America apply throughout the country, in every state and city. Congress and the president play an important role in drafting and enforcing these laws, but they are not alone, writes Share America.

Photo: Shutterstock

“We need a Department of State. We need a Department of Defense, ”says Carla Jones, director of the Department of International Relations and Federalism at the American Council of Legislative Exchange, referring to the federal agencies responsible for implementing the country's foreign and defense policy.

The United States relies on a system called “federalism,” in which state powers are distributed between local, state, and national governments. This is an important point, as citizens face different levels of government every day, but for various reasons.

What does the federal government do?

Only the federal government can regulate interstate and foreign trade, declare war, and enforce national taxation, spending, and national policies.

These actions often begin with the passage of legislation in the US Congress, which consists of the House of Representatives, which has 435 members, and the Senate, which has 100 members. Each of the 50 states has two senators, regardless of its population. The number of House members from each state depends on the state’s population. Bills approved by Congress are then passed on to the president for signing and enacting or vetoing laws.

The executive branch is responsible for enforcing laws passed by Congress. It consists of the president and his advisers, as well as numerous ministries and departments. Each ministry is headed by a minister whom the president appoints on the advice and consent of the Senate. There are more than a dozen government departments in the United States, and each of them has a specific set of responsibilities. For example, the duties of the US Department of the Treasury include the printing of money and its regulation.

The president is also the supreme commander of the United States Armed Forces. This means that the president gives instructions on how weapons should be used, where troops should be deployed, and where ships should move. American generals and admirals obey the orders of the president.

Authority of authorities

Законодательная власть

  • Federal level - US Congress
  • State level - State Legislature
  • Local level - Municipal Council

Executive power

  • Federal level - President
  • State level - Governor
  • Local level - Mayor

Judicial branch

  • Federal level - US Supreme Court and federal courts
  • State level - State Courts
  • Local level - Local courts

The Supreme Court is the highest federal court in the United States that provides American citizens with equal justice in accordance with the law. Nine members of the Court - one chief judge and eight ordinary members - interpret the laws in a fair and impartial manner when there are disagreements about the legality of a law approved by Congress, the norm applied by the federal agency, or other issues.

The constitution gives the president, elected by the whole country, the power to appoint judges. Their candidatures must be approved by the Senate. These judges provide a system of checks and balances among the branches of government.

“The founders of the United States shared power between the branches because they knew that this was the best way to protect our citizens and preserve our Constitution,” said President Trump at the 2017 swearing-in ceremony of Supreme Court member Neil Gorsach, who was nominated by the president. .

The fundamental decisions adopted by the Supreme Court determine American life, and their consequences are still felt today. This includes the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing racial segregation in public schools.

Three branches of the federal government gather in the US Capitol building when the president makes a statement “On the Country’s Position” at a joint congressional meeting. This speech provides an opportunity for the president to outline the program for the coming year. The performance is traditionally held in January or February after a new session of Congress is convened. In 2020, the performance took place on February 5.

On the subject: Check yourself: what do you know about the complex system of presidential elections in the United States

How State "Democracy Labs" Work

Fifty American states are known as “laboratories of democracy” because they create creative ideas in politics that are tested within the state and are sometimes accepted at the federal level.

National laws on minimum wages, workplace safety standards, and welfare and health care policies first appeared in the states.

The United States relies on a system called “federalism” in which state powers are distributed between local, state, and national authorities. This is an important point, as citizens face different levels of government every day, but for different reasons.

It is the American structure of federalism and political culture that prompts the states to take the initiative, explains Carla Jones, director of the department of international relations and federalism of the American Council of legislative exchanges. “We are unique among many developed countries in that we give a lot of power to the states,” says Jones.

What are the functions of the state government?

States offer many services to their residents, from the moment a person is born until his death. State authorities also issue birth and death certificates.

States are responsible for managing hospitals and the healthcare system, building and repairing highways, financing schools and colleges, collecting taxes, and maintaining law enforcement agencies, often referred to as “state patrols.”

Each state has a Department of Vehicles, where citizens register their cars, get driver’s licenses and dispute fines for traffic violations. Taxes and fees help fund all of these services.

The duties of the state governor elected by registered voters vary from state to state. But in general, the governor enforces laws and leads the state’s executive branch, which in turn implements the governor’s program. The governor generally lives in a taxpayer-sponsored official residence — the governor’s mansion — in the state capital.

In addition to the governor, each state has a legislature, or legislature. Each state itself determines the size of its legislative body. For example, the New Hampshire Legislature, one of the smallest states in terms of population, has 424 seats, while California, the most populous state in the country, has only 120 seats.

Citizens residing in states elect members of state houses of representatives and senators who propose, draft and vote on laws, and approve annual budgets in the state capital. The state provides part of the funding for local governments, schools, libraries, and other government agencies.

On the subject: Key changes: what you need to know about taxes in 2020

Local Government in the United States: Mayors, Police, and School Councils

For nearly six years, Sandy Evans called on the Fairfax County School Board in Virginia to postpone the start of high school classes to a later time. Evans decided to run for a vacancy in the school board of 12 members and won the election. She again tried to start classes for high school students after 7: 20 in the morning.

In 2014, Evans and new school board members, with support from the new superintendent and other members, approved class start times after 8:00 AM for high school in Fairfax County, which is the 10th largest in the United States.

“This is not the only problem,” Evans admits, “but it was my priority on the board.”

Welcome to US local government.

What is the local government doing?

The United States relies on a system called “federalism” in which state powers are distributed between local, state, and national authorities. This is an important point, as citizens face different levels of government every day, but for different reasons.

Local government is the cornerstone of American life, because citizens interact most closely with it, says Carla Jones, director of international affairs and federalism at the American Council of Legislative Exchanges, based in Washington. Local governments offer citizens a wide range of basic services, including water supply and sewage, garbage collection, snow removal, housing and transportation services, approval of school curriculum standards and public safety.

For example, when Americans call emergency services, a local policeman, fireman, or paramedic comes to them. These employees are accountable to the local government and their work is most often paid from the local budget, which is replenished from local taxes.

“This is the basis of governance, and it is partly explained by our federalism, where any powers that the national government does not exercise are delegated to state and municipal governments,” Jones explains.

How many local governments exist in the USA?

According to the 2017 government census, which is held every five years, there are approximately 90 local government units in the United States.

Illinois leads the census with seven thousand local government units. Hawaii has the least of them - 21 unit.

Basically, local government is divided into two levels: larger territories are called counties (parishes in Louisiana and towns in Alaska), municipalities or cities. In some cases, counties are divided into settlements.

Depending on the state constitution, municipalities may take different forms. They can be called villages, towns, cities, settlements or major cities.

Local government is built on a system of mutual concessions. For example, Evans wanted the high schools to start classes at 8:30 a.m.

“Everyone had to make a contribution in order to realize this idea. You must learn to listen to other people and compromise, ”says Evans.

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