State and local governments are facing many long-term and numerous newly emergent demographic, social, technological, and environmental changes that challenge their long-term social, economic, ecological, and institutional sustainability. In addition to these macro forces, the recent near total collapse of the U.S. financial system and the poor performance of the general economy since 2009 pose a serious challenge to sustainable state and local governance—perhaps the greatest challenge since the Great Depression of the late 1930s. This textbook introduces students to these long-term changes and more recent challenges, as well as noting some things that state and local governments can do to meet their respective sustainability challenges. As we discuss different aspects of state and local government in this book, we identify both potential barriers to and opportunities for the promotion of sustainability and the achievement of resilience through the development of adaptive management capacity.

The first section of the book focuses on the diversity of state and local governments in our federal system (Chapter 2), the rapid proliferation and diversity of sustainability-promoting practices and policies in state and local governments (Chapter 3), followed by a discussion of the various actors affecting state and local policy processes set forth in Chapter 4. The second section of the book (Chapters 5—9) focuses on the framework and principal institutions of state and local government, what we call linkage mechanisms. A central theme in each of these chapters is how these institutions and their associated governmental processes affect all of our lives in many ways, only some of which we are typically aware. In addition, we identify where students can access these processes and learn more about topics at hand. The final section of the book (Chapters 10—12) will focus on important policy developments in state and local government, including the expansion of social programs, changes in education policy, developments in criminal justice (courts, police, and corrections), and trends in taxes and government expenditures.

Although the general level of knowledge citizens and students have about state and local government can be somewhat limited, our hope here is to engage students and promote thoughtful lifelong engaged citizenship with state and local governance. Dalton has defined this type of citizenship as emphasizing "a more assertive role for the citizen and a broader definition of the elements of citizenship to include social concerns and the welfare of others." The growing literature on sustainability suggests strongly that this engagement is among the most important components of resilient and sustainable communities. With American youth volunteering for near unprecedented levels of community service in America, and now a historic level of engagement by youth in the 2008 general election, the time for learning about and engaging actively with state and local governments has never been better.

The general student learning outcomes for this book are as follows:

  • To develop an understanding of state and local government policy processes, including the various governmental and nongovernmental actors involved in those processes.
  • To gain knowledge of the various factors that affect state and local sustainability including population change, economic development, changing attitudes and beliefs, political culture, and globalization.
  • To synthesize various socioeconomic and political factors that influence state and local policy processes, and then apply this synthesis to a specific state and local policy issue.
  • To apply various policymaking models to policy decision making in state and local governments.
  • To evaluate state and local government policies from a sustainability perspective.
  • To evaluate the differing institutional structures of state and local governments in the United States from the criteria of citizen influence and democracy.

1R. Dalton, The Good Citizen: How a Younger Generation Is Reshaping American Politics (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2008), p. 5.

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