Q2: Describe the components of our federal system of government; describe one or more analytic models if you wish.
The U.S. federal government consists of three parts: executive, legislative, and judicial. The former is represented by the President, while the latter includes the Supreme Court and a range of lower courts. As for the legislative part, it is represented by the Congress. Congress includes two parts or chambers. The upper chamber, known as the Senate, is accountable for releasing the laws so that they are carried into execution. In other words, the Senate has the legislative power. Apart from the legislative power, the Senate has non-legislative power as well. Specifically, it controls presidential appointments (i.e. may initiate impeachment), has the power and the rights to evaluate the elections, appoint the cabinet officers, foreign ambassadors, and federal judges, as well as the right to decide upon the qualification of the members (Kura, 2001, p.2).
The lower chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives, accounts for the discussion of ideas, which would later become laws and decide whether these ideas should be ratified as the laws. While there are 435 representatives in the House of Commons, each state has at least 2 of them to represent it. The latest U.S. Census serves as the deciding factor of the number of representatives from each state (congressional districts), since the latter is dependent on its overall population. Any U.S. citizen older than 25 years, and who has been a U.S. citizen for 7 years or more may become a representative. Interestingly, in the U.S. constitutional powers the two chambers or houses are equal. Bach (2001) observes that “each has unique prerogatives that it usually guards jealously” (Bach, p.17). He also adds that neither of two houses is domineering, and both have to agree before some bill is to become a law (Bach, 2001, p.17). Five crucial functions performed by the Congress include ratifying the laws, levying taxes, declaring war, controlling the federal budget, and impeaching the president (Toole, 2006).
The executive branch includes the U.S. President that represents the institution of executive leadership in the federal government system (Ellis, 2009, p.146). The president is accountable for enforcing the law. Yet, he does not have any legislative power “except for recommendation and veto” (Ellis, 2009, p.176). In fact, any legislation may either become a law or it may be vetoed by the president. If the president still has not removed his veto, the bill will become a law, only if two thirds of the two houses vote unanimously to override the veto (Toole, 2006). Thus, the power of the president is not conclusive in the United States. Apart from the power of executive reinforcement, the president accounts for the foreign affairs as a chief U.S. diplomat and for the armed forces. In other words, the head of the state performs the functions of the commander in chief of the United States army.
The vice-president is the second authority in executive leadership. The vice-president is the first to occupy the position of the president in case the latter dies, resigns, or gets impeached by the Senate. If these things happen, the vice-president will temporarily perform the functions of the president until a new leader is elected nationally. Additionally, the vice president has the right to vote in specific cases when voting ends in a tie. The Secretary of State is the third most powerful representative of the executive branch of power in the United States. The Secretary of State performs supervision of the U.S. government overseas activities within as a one of the senior U.S. diplomats, as well as provides advice as to the state’s foreign policy. This is “an office of automatic resignation at the end of presidential term” (Plischke, 1999, p.759).
The judicial branch of the federal government comprises the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, and District Court. The Supreme Court is the Court of Last Resort. Court of Appeals serves as Intermediate Appellate Court. The Circuit Court refers to courts of general jurisdiction, while the District Court - to limited jurisdiction. Whether laws ratified by the Congress are legal is decided by the Supreme Court, which is the highest authority in the legal system of the United States (May et al, 2007, p.163).
Within the federal government, a range of other components has developed. These include political parties, bureaucracy, the media, interest groups, elections and campaigns. Bureaucracy, as a form of U.S. government represented by ruling officials, comprises a range of federal departments and agencies (Niskanen, 2007, p. 23). Namely, these are the Central Intelligence Agency, the department of state, and the department of homeland security. The agencies and departments are the components of bureaucracy functioning to help the president perform his duties. (Toole, 2006).
Finally, the United States political system is comprised of the two parties - the Democrats and the Republicans. The former are thought to be liberal and the latter are believed to be conservative (Disch, 2002, p.14). Due to the bipartisan system, people have a chance to elect the president either from the Democrats or the one from the Republicans. Moreover, every state in the country is either democratic or republican, which is determined by the political affiliation of the majority.
Q4: Describe the short term and long term effects of proposition 13 on local governments and public services in California.
Since the time of passage of Proposition 13, it has been a subject of heated debate. The proposition aimed to impose limitations on tax rates that concerned real-property (Roussakis, 1997, p.368). Specifically, property taxes’ limitation in California referred to roughly a percent of a home’s assessed value. In addition, unless some property was sold, the assessments of property values couldn’t rise by more than two percent a year. At the same time if the property got sold, property values would rise and the assessment would be made at a new value. In addition, a supportive measure was passed along with the proposition. It was about the right to increase taxes in California by the two-thirds majority. As Roussakis observes: “The effect of this law was to limit the taxing authority of the state, and hence its ability to finance new bond issues through tax increases” (Roussakis, 1997, p. 368). Thus, it became a problem for the legislative power to pass certain laws with the aim to raise the tax rate.
Historically, the 1970’s and 1980’s saw a dramatic rise in taxation of property values. So proposition 13 was part of a tax revolt back in 1978 (Roussakis, 1997, p.368). The revolt was brought about by homeowners’ dissatisfaction with the property taxes subject to numerous fluctuations. As a result of the proposition 13 passage, property owners became aware of their homes’ property tax rates at the time of homes’ purchase and in the future alike. After the proposition was passed, California homeowners restored property values at the rate they had been back in 1975 (Gallagher, 1999-2011). Moreover, one of the pros was that the proposition could eventually restrict uncontrolled property taxes to mere one percent of the owners’ property value. The latter could only rise at the rate of 2% maximum a year. Due to the proposition 13, the elderly who live on their savings, as well as social security or alike, can afford further living in the property that had been bought before they took the retirement. Plus, the proposition entitled the citizens rather than the government to exerting control over their land. Here it needs to be noted that if home owners are subject to control by current property taxes, they may not be considered real owners of their land because of their dependency on tax rates. What they do is simply paying rent.
At the same time, proposition 13 is believed to have worked against the constitutional protection clause. In particular, it appears that homeowners in California are subject to different and unequal policies, since property in the same neighborhood gets taxed differently from some other property, which depends on the year the property was purchased. On the other hand, as others argue, this peculiarity of the proposition allows preserving neighborhoods by letting current owners stay in their homes.
On the contrary, the local governments along with public services have been affected by the passage of the proposition 13 in a negative way. Lawrence states: “Proposition cut property taxes so severely that the state government “bailed out” cities, countries, special districts, and schools with surplus revenues” (Lawrence, 2012, p.227). Just because the property tax has been the principal revenue source within local and state governments, proposition 13 decreased the revenues for the latter. Hence, local public services (e.g. schools, health care facilities and the police) got deprived of a part of their funding. Statistically, California public schools are known to have been deprived of billions of dollars. To make matters worse, teachers were made redundant since the class size became larger. In their turn, community colleges refused from providing certain courses, which made the immigrant population suffer. Immigrant students tend to be rejected because of insufficient number of courses resulting from budget cuts and instructor downsizes. Hence, proposition 13 has had impact on every domain of the education system. In addition, there has been a shortage of funds within the health care system. This led to personnel shortages among the medical staff. Further, the police have suffered due to insufficient funding.
To summarize the proposition has been the cause of California financial plight and crisis. If before the passage of proposition 13, California had been a liberal state, the proposition “fundamentally restructured state and local relationships” (Lawrence, 2012, p.226). Despite the fact the proposition effectively cut property taxes per capita in the short run as well as reduced total state and local taxes per capita, it is believed to have been the root of tax burden increase in the long run. Boudreaux observes that non-guaranteed debt has multiplied while the public fisc has got privatized (Boudreaux, 2010). In addition, experts observe that the appointed tax and spending authorities have functioned ineffectively, which reduced government accountability. Finally, many people support the idea that the proposition threatens U.S. democracy.
Q5 Discuss public interest groups, why they exist and how they might influence governments at different levels.
An interest group is defined as a certain organization that consists of members united by common concerns and being preoccupied with the aim to influence government policies regarding these concerns (Hrebenar & Thomas, 2004, p.9). Interest groups function to influence public policy within a range of issues including environmental protection, consumer rights, or human rights. To illustrate, the NAACP and the National Association of Colored People are just two examples of interest groups in the States.
The variety of definitions of public interest groups allows distinguishing their specifics. They usually focus on a single issue or a few issues that are linked. Those people who are engaged in public interest groups are known to do this without getting a direct profit from changes in the policies. They rather profit from individual donations and grants that aim to support their activities. All in all, public interest groups function in the public interest. Therefore, they exist and continue to achieve their goals.
As to how they reach their goals of having impact on government politics, interest groups do this in a variety of ways. This may be done through lobbying, arranging grass root activities, educating the public, and holding demonstrations against or in favor of some issue. In other words, interest groups achieve success through maintaining pressure on people responsible for policy making and generating publicity.