New York State Government Structure

Organizationally, New York State follows the classic pattern of American government, with three independent branches -- the Legislative Branch (the lawmakers), the Judicial Branch (the courts and judges) and the Executive Branch (the Governor and State departments).

The Legislative Branch

The legislative branch consists of a bicameral (or two chamber) Legislature -- a 61 member Senate and 150 member Assembly that, together, represent the 18 million citizens of the State. All members are elected for two-year terms.

The Judicial Branch

The judicial branch is comprised of a range of courts (from trial to appellate) with various jurisdictions (from village and town courts to the State's highest court -- the Court of Appeals). The State assumes the cost for all but the town and village courts.

The Judiciary functions under a Unified Court System whose organization, administration and financing are prescribed by the State Constitution and the Unified Court Budget Act. The Unified Court System has responsibility for peacefully and fairly resolving civil claims, family disputes, and criminal accusations, as well as providing legal protection for children, mentally-ill persons and others entitled to special protections.

The Executive Branch

The executive branch of New York State government consists of 20 departments -- the maximum number allowed by the State Constitution. This limitation came about as a result of constitutional reforms, dating back to the mid-1920s, that were designed to make State government more manageable by eliminating many of the independently elected executive officers and curbing the creation of new departments.

Although there have been several interim changes, as of 1961, the maximum number of departments remains set at 20:

Agriculture and Markets
Serves agricultural producers and the consuming public. Promotes agriculture through various industry and export development programs; enforces food safety laws.

Audit and Control
Maintains the State's accounts; pays the State's payrolls and bills; invests State funds; audits State agencies and local governments; and administers the State employee retirement system.

Primary regulator for State-licensed and State-chartered financial entities operating in New York, including: domestic banks, foreign agencies, branch and representative offices, savings institutions and trust companies, mortgage bankers and brokers, check cashers and money transmitters operating in New York. Ensures the safe and sound conduct of these businesses, maintains public confidence in the banking system and protects the public interest as well as the interests of depositors, creditors and shareholders.

Civil Service
The central personnel agency for the Executive branch of State government. Provides the State of New York with a trained workforce; administers health, dental and insurance programs covering State employees and retirees as well as some local government employees; and provides technical services to the State's 105 municipal service agencies, covering approximately 377,000 local government employees.

Correctional Services
Operates facilities for the custody and rehabilitation of inmates.

Economic Development
Creates jobs and encourages economic prosperity by providing technical and financial assistance to businesses.

Supervises all educational institutions in the State, operates certain educational and cultural institutions, certifies teachers and certifies/licenses 38 professions.

Environmental Conservation
Administers programs designed to protect and improve the State's natural resources.

At the time of the 1920s constitutional reforms, the Executive Department -- headed by the Governor -- performed only a few core functions such as budgeting, central purchasing, the State police and military and naval affairs. Since that time, numerous agencies have been created within the Executive Department to accommodate governmental functions not anticipated in the 1920s, while conforming with the limits established by the Constitution. These additions include divisions and offices that do not logically fit into the framework of the other departments, such as the Division of Veterans' Affairs (which advises veterans on services, benefits and entitlements, and administers payments of bonuses and annuities to blind veterans) and the Office of General Services (which provides centralized data processing, construction, maintenance and design services as well as printing, transportation and communication systems).

Family Assistance
Promotes greater self-sufficiency by providing support for needy families and adults that lead to self-reliance.

Protects and promotes the health of New Yorkers through enforcement of public health and related laws, and assurance of quality health care delivery.

Supervises and regulates all insurance business in New York State. Issues licenses to agents, brokers and consultants; conducts examinations of insurers; reviews complaints from policyholders; and approves corporate formations, mergers and consolidations.

Helps New York work by preparing individuals for jobs, administering unemployment insurance, disability benefits and workers' compensation, and ensuring workplace safety.

Protects the rights of New Yorkers; represents the State in legal matters; and prosecutes violations of State law.

Mental Hygiene
Provides services for individuals suffering from mental illness, developmental disabilities and/or substance abuse.

Motor Vehicles
Registers vehicles, licenses drivers and promotes highway safety.

Public Service
Ensures that all New Yorkers have access to reliable and low-cost utility services by promoting competition and reliability in utility services.

Known as the keeper of records, the Department of State provides business licenses, enforces building codes, provides technical assistance to local governments and administers fire prevention and control services.

Taxation and Finance
Collects taxes and administers the State's tax laws.

Coordinates and assists in the development and operation of highway, railroad, mass transit, port, waterway and aviation facilities.

Elected Officers and Appointed Officials

Only three New York State government officers are directly elected by the people of the State:

The Governor, who heads the Executive Department, and Lieutenant Governor (who are elected on a joint ballot).

The State Comptroller, who heads the Department of Audit and Control.

The Attorney General, who heads the Department of Law.

With a few exceptions, the Governor appoints the heads of all State departments and agencies of the executive branch. The exceptions include:

The Commissioner of the State Education Department, who is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the State Board of Regents.

The Chancellor of the State University of New York, who is appointed by a Board of Trustees.

The Chancellor of the City University of New York, who is appointed by a Board of Trustees.

Local Governments

Geographically, New York State is divided into 62 counties (five of which are boroughs of New York City). Within these counties are 62 cities (including New York City), 932 towns, 553 villages and 706 school districts. In addition to counties, cities, towns and villages are "special districts" that meet local needs for fire and police protection, sewer and water systems or other services.

Local governments are granted the power to adopt local laws that are not inconsistent with the provisions of the State Constitution or other general law. The Legislature, in turn, may not pass any law that affects only one locality unless the governing body of that locality has first approved the bill -- referred to as a home rule request -- or unless a Sate interest exists.