The Executive Branch

Chapter 4:
The Executive Branch

What is the Executive Branch?

Of the three branches of state government the Executive Branch is by far the largest. These are the offices that run the day-to-day business of the state and who make sure the state’s laws are put into effect. Most people are hired to do their jobs but some are elected. Elected executives include the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, the State Treasurer, and the Auditor General. The head of each state agency (Secretary of Revenue, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of State, and all the others) is nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. They are also a member of the Governor’s cabinet.

A general overview of the executive branch is found at:

Elected Officers of the Executive Branch


The Governor in Pennsylvania is the leader of the Executive Branch, and is given the power to carry out laws, serve as the commander-in-chief of the military forces of the Commonwealth, and to appoint officers to state agencies such as the Department of Education, the Department of Labor and Industry, and the Department of Revenue. The Governor may fill vacancies in these departments as well as the office of the Auditor General, State Treasurer, and other elective offices. The Governor works closely with the officers of these departments to make new policies and plans for the Commonwealth.

The Governor also delivers messages to the General Assembly about the state of the Commonwealth and talks about change to policies or the need for new policies that better serve the people of Pennsylvania. On rare occasions the Governor can call together (convene) the General Assembly, can call a special meeting (session) of the General Assembly under Article 4, Section 12 of the Constitution when there are “extraordinary occasions, or whenever in his opinion the public interest requires”.

One of the most powerful things a Governor can do is approve or veto bills that pass in both the House and Senate. Bills that are approved by the Governor receive his signature. Bills that are not approved are sent back to the House where the bill was written with a list of reasons the Governor did not like the bill. A Governor’s veto can be ignored (overturned) if two-thirds of the House of Representatives and the Senate members vote for the bill. Then the bill becomes law even if the Governor did not sign the bill. A bill will also become law if the Governor does not sign or return the bill within 10 days. The Governor also has veto power over the state budget (also known as the appropriation bill) and can take out any item. This is known as a line item veto or partial disapproval.

Though not always, the Governor can pardon (free) people from fines, forfeitures, and some jail sentences.

Governors in Pennsylvania must be a citizen of the United States, must be at least 30 years old, and must be a resident of Pennsylvania for at least seven years before running for the Office of Governor. Governors are elected for a term of four years.

Lieutenant Governor

The Lieutenant Governor serves as the President of the Senate. As President of the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor may break a tie vote.

If the Governor of Pennsylvania dies, goes to jail, resigns, or is impeached (or cannot continue to serve as Governor for any reason), the Lieutenant Governor becomes Governor for the remainder of that term. If the Governor for a short time cannot continue to serve, perhaps due to illness, all powers and duties of the Governor’s Office are moved to the Lieutenant Governor’s office.

Just like the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Lieutenant Governor must be at least 30 years old and must have lived in Pennsylvania for at least seven years before running for office. The Lieutenant Governor is elected for a term of four years.

On days when the Lieutenant Governor serves as President of the Senate, he/she calls the Senate to order at the day and hour it agrees to meet. The Lieutenant Governor must:

  • Preserve order
  • Keep any debate to the topic or question at hand
  • Decide who will be heard if members want to speak
  • State all questions for a vote
  • Sign all bills and resolutions passed by both Houses
  • Sign all orders, addresses, writs, warrants and subpoenas
  • Not accept any amendment to a bill that changes the first intent of that bill (or even sections of the bill)
  • Send bills and joint resolutions to the committee set up to review the topic of a bill
  • Reprimand members who are absent without leave or refuse to vote.

Attorney General

The Attorney General is the top law officer of the Commonwealth and:

  • Prosecutes organized crime and public corruption
  • Collects all debts, taxes, and money owed to the Commonwealth
  • Represents the Commonwealth and all Commonwealth agencies in any lawsuit
  • against the state or its agencies
  • By request, represent the Auditor General, State Treasurer, and Public Utility Commission in any legal action against them
  • Administer consumer protection laws.

The Attorney General must be at least 30 years old and must have lived in Pennsylvania for at least seven years before running for Attorney General. Only a lawyer who is a member of the bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania can run for this office. The Attorney General is elected at the same time as the Auditor General and State Treasurer to a term of four years. The Attorney General can only serve two terms.

Following is a list of Sections in the Office of the Attorney General. Click on those of interest to see what services they offer or how they protect the citizens of Pennsylvania.

Auditor General

The Auditor General makes sure that state money is spent legally and properly. The office was created in 1809 as an Act of the General Assembly. At first, the Auditor General was appointed by the governor but in 1850 it became an elected office. The Department conducts two types of audits: financial and performance. Financial audits review reports to make sure they are on time and done correctly. Performance audits look at how the government spends money to see if the tax dollars are spent as they should be spent. Examples of government programs that are audited include:

  • Corporate tax returns
  • County public assistance offices
  • Federal funds received by the commonwealth
  • Hospitals and nursing homes
  • Liquid fuels funds
  • Liquor stores
  • Municipal pension plans
  • School districts
  • State agencies
  • State-aided and -owned medical facilities
  • State-related universities
  • Volunteer Firefighters' Relief Associations
  • Other individuals and entities receiving state funds.

The Auditor General is elected by the residents of Pennsylvania and can only serve two four year terms.

State Treasurer

The State Treasurer’s office is responsible for managing money and property owned by the Commonwealth. The office looks at any case involving loss, fraud, or abuse of treasury funds. It also reviews real estate, materials bought, and service contracts that were signed by the Commonwealth. The Treasurer’s office keeps a Contracts e-Library which lists government contracts and provides other information. This e-Library is open to the public. It can be accessed through the following website:

The Pennsylvania Treasury also manages programs such as the PA529 College Savings program to help families save for a college education. It also runs the INVEST program to help both local governments and non-profit groups manage their savings. The Pennsylvania Treasury maintains a database of unclaimed property in the state. You can check this database to make sure there is no property there that belongs to you.

The Pennsylvania State Treasurer also sits on many boards that handle the Commonwealth’s money. These include the State Employees’ Retirement System Board, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and the State Workers’ Insurance Fund Budget, among many others.

The Treasury Department has many bureaus, offices, and programs. A partial list follows. Each can be referenced on the State Treasurer website:

  • Bureau of Audits
  • Bureau of Cash Management and Investments
  • Bureau of Communications
  • Comptroller’s Office
  • Bureau of Contracts and Public Records
  • Bureau of Fiscal Review
  • Bureau of Internal Audits
  • Office of Investigations
  • Office of Legislative Affairs
  • Bureau of Treasury Automated Bookkeeping System (TABS)
  • Tuition Account Program Bureau
  • Bureau of Unclaimed Property
  • Uncashed Checks/Forgeries Unit
  • Bureau of Unemployment Compensation Disbursement

You may be interested in the following services provided by the Office of the State Treasurer if you are looking to:

Cabinet-Level Agencies

The Executive Branch has many parts. Some are known as state agencies, and a list of websites for agencies follows. Often the director of an agency sits on the Governor's Cabinet, as do others who directly advise the Governor. The Cabinet is a team of advisors that work directly with the Governor. Sometimes state government works better when all the directors meet together, discuss issues, and resolve problems. These advisors may include the Lieutenant Governor, General Counsel, the Inspector General, and the Physician General. Directors are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. You can learn more about the cabinet at this website:

Cabinet-Level Agencies in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are listed in the following table. To gather more information about an agency, click on the agency web address.

Cabinet-Level Agencies
Department of Aging
Department of Agriculture
Department of Banking
Department of Community and Economic Development
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Department of Corrections
Department of Education
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency
Department of Environmental Protection
Department of General Services
Department of Health
Insurance Department
Department of Labor & Industry
Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
Department of Public Welfare
Department of Revenue
Department of State
Pennsylvania State Police
Department of Transportation

Other State Agencies

The Executive Branch also has Offices and Commissions in addition to the Departments already listed. These are state agencies that deal with special issues. Agencies and their websites are:

Other State Agencies
Agency NameWebsite
Governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs
Pennsylvania Council on the Arts

Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian American Affairs
Civil Service Commission
Board of Claims
Pennsylvania Commission of Crime and Delinquency
Environmental Hearing Board
Fish and Boat Commission
Game Commission
Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board
Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council
Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency
Pennsylvania Higher Educational Facilities Authority
Historical and Museum Commission
Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency
Human Relations Commission
Independent Regulatory Review Commission
Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs
Liquor Control Board
Milk Marketing Board
Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System
Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority
Philadelphia Regional Port Authority
Port of Pittsburgh Commission
Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole
Public Employee Retirement Commission
State Public School Building Authority
Public School Employees’ Retirement System
Pennsylvania Public Television Network Commission
Public Utility Commission
Pennsylvania Rural Development Council
Sexual Offenders Assessment Board
State Employees’ Retirement System
Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
Office of the Victim Advocate
Commission for Women

As you can see, there are many parts of the Executive Branch. Often the Governor also appoints members of the Board for Offices and Commissions; however, the Governor only appoints some Board members, not all members, for larger Boards. Click on the above websites to see how Board members or Commissioners are appointed for specific groups.

Interstate Agencies

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also belongs to organizations made up of several states. These agreements help all the states that belong to the organization. Some groups share resources and others help states work together for shared goals. Some examples of these interstate agreements/agencies are:

  • Agreement on Detainers
  • Agreement on Qualifications of Educational Personnel
  • Appalachian Regional Commission
  • Chesapeake Bay Commission
  • Delaware River Basin Commission
  • Interstate Civil Defense and Disaster Compact
  • Interstate High Speed Inter-City Rail Passenger Network Compact
  • New Jersey-Pennsylvania Turnpike Bridge Compact
  • Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Compact
  • Susquehanna River Basic Compact

You can find webpages for each of these groups.