Provincial Government

Austria Table of Contents

Each of the nine provinces has its own constitution, which prescribes its governmental organization. Common to each province is an elected Landtag (provincial legislature), which is popularly elected on the basis of proportional representation. According to the federal constitution, the number of deputies can range from thirty-six to sixty-five, depending on the population of the province. Vienna, which is simultaneously a province and a city, is in a special category--its legislature has 100 deputies. A Landtag is subject to dissolution by the federal president at the cabinet's request. This process requires the consent of the Bundesrat. One-half of the Bundesrat's deputies must be present and cast a two-thirds vote in favor of the action.

The Landtag elects an executive composed of a governor and councilors. A deputy is elected to serve in the absence of the governor. Candidates for these positions must meet eligibility requirements of the Landtag, although they need not belong to it. Elections to the Landtag occur every five years, except in Upper Austria, where they are held every six years. Legislative periods can be shortened and elections held if the Landtag votes to dissolve itself.

Provincial constitutions can be amended, provided that changes do not conflict with the federal constitution. Passage of a constitutional amendment requires the presence of at least onehalf of the Landtag's members and a two-thirds majority vote. Regulations for passage of other provincial laws vary, but generally the procedure requires a vote by the Landtag, verification that the proper procedure has been followed, the countersignature of the prescribed official, and publication in the provincial law gazette. Before a law is published, the federal minister whose jurisdiction covers the area of the proposed law has to be informed of the province's action. The cabinet then has eight weeks to notify the province if the bill interferes with federal interests. The Landtag can override the federal government's objections by voting again in favor of the bill with at least one-half of its members present. The federal government would probably appeal to the Constitutional Court if it strenuously objected to a provincial law.

The provinces have a restricted ability to raise taxes. They may not tax items already subject to federal taxation. Every four to six years, the federal government, the provinces, and the municipalities negotiate a Finance Equalization Law that determines how tax revenues raised at the federal and provincial levels are to be divided. This system ensures that the provinces are fully compensated for the many federal programs that they implement.

Article 15 (1) of the federal constitution states that matters not expressly reserved to the federal government come under the jurisdiction of the provinces. Matters in which the provinces have primary jurisdiction include local police, primary education, housing, health, and protection of the environment. If a provincial government believes that some federal action is infringing on its jurisdiction, it can appeal to the Constitutional Court for a ruling.

Provisions exist for interprovincial coordination of policies by means of compacts and treaties. Such coordination, however, is feasible only if the matters at hand are among the autonomous rights of the provinces. This manner of cooperation has rarely occurred. Instead, conferences of provincial officials are held to plan less formal methods of cooperation. The federal government must be notified of interprovincial action.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress