Massachusetts Government Structure

The government of the Commonwealth is divided into three branches: the Executive, the bicameral Legislature and the Judiciary.

Executive Branch

Chief Elected Positions


The Governor is the chief executive officer of the Commonwealth.

Lieutenant Governor

The Lieutenant Governor is elected along with the Governor.  Together, the two work closely to address important issues facing the Commonwealth.

Executive Council

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.

Appointed Positions

Governor’s Cabinet

The Governor’s Cabinet is comprised of eight gubernatorial appointees who assist the Governor in administration and policy-making.  With the exception of the Secretary of Transportation, each individual serves as the chief executive of the respective secretariat and falls within the jurisdiction of the seven executive offices. 

The seven executive offices are:

The Secretary of Transportation, appointed by the Governor to serve as the chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, also serves on the Governor’s cabinet.

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: 

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.

State Comptroller

The 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 and oversight of fiscal management functions within all state agencies and departments. The Comptroller also administers the Commonwealth’s annual state single audit and manages the state accounting system. 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 promulgated 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 GAAP basis (the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR).

Other Elected Offices

Treasurer and Receiver-General

More commonly referred to as the State Treasurer, this individual has four primary statutory responsibilities: 

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.

Attorney General

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.

State Auditor

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.

Legislative Branch

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 2011 marked the start of the 187th General Court, which runs through January of 2013.  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 24 of these committees, each responsible for studying the bills which pertain to a specific area (i.e., taxation, education, health care, insurance, etc.). Each committee is composed of six senators and eleven representatives, except the committees on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, Health Care Financing, and Transportation which consist of seven members of the Senate and thirteen on the part of the House.

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 has no further right to return the bill a second time with a recommendation to amend but may still veto the bill.

Judicial Branch

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.

Local Government

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 and 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 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 2 1/2, 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 received 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.  On January 1, 2010, the remaining six county Sheriffs were moved within State jurisdiction.

Organizational Chart

The statewide organization chart identifies the present structure of state government and its constituent agencies. The Governor’s House 1 budget, and legislation that will be filed concurrent to the House 1 recommendation, proposes consolidations and reorganizations of a number of agencies, including the following: