Massachusetts Government Structure

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

Executive Branch


The Governor is the chief executive officer of the Commonwealth. Other elected members of the executive branch are the Lieutenant Governor (elected with the Governor), the Treasurer and Receiver-General (State Treasurer), the Secretary of the Commonwealth (State Secretary), the Attorney General and the State Auditor. All are elected to four-year terms. The terms of the current office holders began in January 2007.

The Executive Council, also referred to as the "Governor's Council," 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.

Also within the Executive Branch are certain independent offices, each of which performs a defined function, such as the Office of the Comptroller, the Office of the Inspector General, the State Ethics Commission and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Governor's Cabinet

The Governor's Cabinet, which assists the Governor in administration and policy-making, is comprised of the secretaries who head the eight Executive Offices, which are the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, the Executive Office of Education and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Finally, the Governor chairs an informal Development Cabinet to coordinate business development in the Commonwealth. It includes the Secretaries of Administration and Finance, Housing and Economic Development, Transportation and Public Works, Energy and Environmental Affairs and Labor and Workforce Development. Cabinet secretaries and executive department chiefs serve at the pleasure of the Governor. Most other agencies are grouped under one of the eight Executive Offices for administrative purposes.

The Governor's chief fiscal officer is the Secretary of Administration and Finance. The activities of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance fall within six broad categories: (i) administrative and fiscal supervision, including supervision of the implementation of the Commonwealth's annual budget and monitoring of all agency expenditures during the fiscal year; (ii) enforcement of the Commonwealth's tax laws and collection of tax revenues through the Department of Revenue for remittance to the State Treasurer; (iii) human resource management, including administration of the state personnel system, civil service system and employee benefit programs and negotiation of collective bargaining agreements with certain of the Commonwealth's public employee unions; (iv) capital facilities management, including coordinating and overseeing the construction, management and leasing of all state facilities; (v) the development and implementation of the Commonwealth's 5 year capital plan; and (vi) administration of general services, including information technology services.

In addition to these responsibilities, the Secretary of Administration and Finance serves as Chairperson of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority and Co-Chairs the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. The Secretary of Administration and Finance also serves as a member of numerous other state boards and commissions.

State Treasurer and Receiver General

The State Treasurer has four primary statutory responsibilities: (i) the collection of all state revenues (other than small amounts of funds held by certain agencies); (ii) the management of both short-term and long-term investments of Commonwealth funds (other than the state employee and teacher pension funds), including all cash receipts; (iii) the disbursement of Commonwealth monies and oversight of reconciliation of the state's accounts; and (iv) the 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.

State Auditor

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 contract compliance of private vendors doing business with the Commonwealth.

Attorney General

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 Attorney General 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 Comptroller

Accounting policies and practices, publication of official financial reports and oversight of fiscal management functions are the responsibility of the Comptroller. 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 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 audited 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).

State Secretary

The Secretary of the Commonwealth 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.

Legislative Branch

The Legislature (formally called the General Court) is the bicameral legislative body of the Commonwealth, consisting of a Senate of 40 members and a House of Representatives of 160 members. 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 2009 marks the start of the 186th General Court, which runs through January of 2011. 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 26 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 citizens, 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 with 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 agencies within the Commonwealth, the budgets of which are not included in the Commonwealth's annual budget. These include the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA), 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 is in 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 regional school districts established by them also provide elementary and secondary education. Cities are governed by several 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. Various local and regional districts exist for schools, water and wastewater administration and certain other governmental functions.

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"), although the amount of aid received varies significantly among municipalities.

The cities and towns of the Commonwealth are also organized into 14 counties, but 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 Governor proposes to move the seven remaining County Sheriffs to the state in this budget. See Budget Narrative. Also, more detail regarding the Administration's Local Aid proposal can be found in Section 3 ("Local Aid") of this budget document.