What is Concurrent Powers?

Definition and meaning of concurrent powers: Concurrent powers are those that are shared by both the federal government and the states. Both the federal government and the states have the authority to pass laws, collect taxes, and borrow money to fund projects. Concurrent powers are a key characteristic of American federalism. This system of shared powers can be seen as a way to ensure a level playing field and to prevent one party or candidate from exerting outsized influence.

The concept of concurrent powers is rooted in the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the framework for a balanced distribution of power. Notably, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution specifies the powers granted to the federal government, while the Tenth Amendment reserves all other powers to the states or the people. This division of power is designed to prevent the concentration of power and maintain a federal system where both the state and federal governments can address the needs of their constituents.

The following are commonly cited examples of concurrent powers:

  • Regulating Commerce: Both the federal and state governments have the authority to regulate commerce within their jurisdictions. This includes the ability to enact laws that affect trade, business operations, and economic activities.

  • Collecting Taxes: While the federal government may impose income or import taxes, states have the authority to collect sales, property, and income taxes.

  • Borrowing Money: Both levels of government can borrow money to finance public projects, such as infrastructure development, education, and healthcare services. This ability is crucial for addressing their immediate needs while planning for long-term growth.

  • Passing Laws: States can enact laws on matters not exclusively reserved for the federal government, as long as these laws do not conflict with federal laws or the U.S. Constitution. This includes legislation on public safety, health, and welfare. This is why certain laws tend to vary from state to state.

The system of concurrent powers has sometimes been a source of political contention. For example, debates over the extent of federal versus state authority in areas such as environmental regulation and healthcare have underscored the complexities of concurrent powers.

Concurrent powers are pivotal in maintaining the balance and flexibility of the United States' federal system. By allowing both the federal government and state governments to legislate, tax, and fund projects, concurrent powers ensure that governance remains responsive to the diverse needs of the American people. Understanding these powers is essential for appreciating the complexities and strengths of American federalism.

To learn more about concurrent powers and their connection to voter representation, read a more in-depth analysis here.


  • U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8.

  • The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

  • McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316 (1819).


Explore free resources for civics education

Become a more informed citizen and get involved in your community
Frame 30 (1)