State and Local Governments

Brazil Table of Contents

Since independence Brazil has oscillated between centralization and state autonomy. During the empire (1822-89), Brazil had a centralized constitutional monarchy and little state autonomy. The emperor exercised the moderating power by appointing senators for life, presiding over a Council of State, removing and transferring police and judicial officials at will, and appointing provincial governors.

The Old Republic was established in 1889 in part because of state demands for greater autonomy. Until 1930 the larger and more powerful states enjoyed great autonomy under a federal system patterned after the United States model, but the smaller and poorer states constantly suffered interventions by the central government. "Young Turk" lieutenants (tenentes ) rebelled against this system of state oligarchies in the 1920s and were prominent in the initial modernization strategies after the 1930 revolution. From 1930 to 1945, the national government centralized control over state and local governments by appointing governors, who in turn appointed all mayors. Except for the brief period of 1933-37, the national government closed legislatures at all levels. The 1946 constitution reestablished a more balanced federalism, but maintained central control over industrial, financial, labor, election, and development policies. In October 1965, the military regime began curtailing the autonomy of the states once again. From 1966 through 1978, the central government appointed state governors and mayors of state capitals and some 170 designated selected cities deemed vital to "national security." Active-duty army colonels were appointed as security chiefs in each state. As part of its "liberalizing opening," the military regime allowed direct elections for governors in 1982. In November 1985, President Sarney and Congress allowed direct elections for mayors of state capitals and selected cities deemed vital to "national security."

Until 1994 state governors and vice governors were elected to one four-year term, taking office on January 1 following their election. In 1998 those elected in 1994 may seek one consecutive second term. State deputies are also elected to four-year terms but are not restricted to one term. Governors have state cabinets, and their executive branch is organized in a manner similar to the federal executive branch. Likewise, state assemblies organize their legislative process like that of Congress. After 1988 state assemblies lost their salary autonomy; state deputies may receive up to 75 percent of the salary of a federal deputy.

State governments are responsible for maintaining state highway systems, low-cost housing programs, public infrastructure, telephone companies, and transit police. Both state and municipal governments are responsible for public primary and secondary schools and public hospitals. Municipal governments are also responsible for water, sewerage, and garbage services. State tax revenues are concentrated in sales taxes. State governments are allowed to operate state financial institutions, most of which are a constant problem for the Central Bank because they run heavy deficits, especially in election years. In 1995 the Central Bank intervened in some of the state banks with the worst deficits (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Alagoas, and Mato Grosso) and sought to privatize others. In October 1996, Brazil had 5,581 municipalities, of which more than 15 percent had populations under 5,000. The municipal taxing authority is concentrated on property and service taxes.

Mayors and vice mayors must be at least twenty-one years of age and are elected to one four-year term. Reelection is now permitted as of the year 2000. City council members must be at least eighteen years of age and are elected to renewable four-year terms under a proportional representation system. From 1950 through 1970, municipal elections coincided with general federal and state elections. Local officials elected in 1970 were given two-year terms, so as to set local elections two years out of phase with general elections (the next local elections were held in 1972 and 1976). However, local officials elected in 1976 were given six-year terms to make municipal elections again coincide with general elections in 1982, but in turn the latter also got six-year terms to make local elections out of phase again (in 1988, 1992, and 1996).

More about the Government and Politics of Brazil.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress