Publication 216, The First 100 Years


The Bradley-Burns Uniform Local Sales and Use Tax Law—1955

In 1955 the Bradley-Burns Uniform Local Sales and Use Tax Law was enacted, giving California’s counties the option of levying a one percent sales and use tax. The Board of Equalization was to administer the tax. The concept of a local sales tax was not new. The Board noted the growth of this form of taxation in its 1945-1946 Biennial Report:

“Although there is a long history of municipal sales taxation in California, if one chooses to call a business license tax graduated according to gross receipts by this name, the adoption of local revenue devices comparable to the state retail sales tax is a recent development. San Bernardino enacted such a tax on November 30, 1944, and Santa Barbara on February 23, 1945, but the rapid spread of this levy dates from its adoption by Los Angeles on April 8, 1946, and its recommendation to the attention of other cities by the League of California Cities shortly thereafter.” 94

By 1954, 173 of California's 316 cities were taxing sales. Although this number represented only half of California's cities, it accounted for 73 percent of all the state-taxed retail sales.95 Because of the competitive advantage this offered untaxed merchants outside the cities, many officials favored the equity which would be afforded by a uniform application of local taxes. Therefore, the Legislature enacted the Bradley-Burns Law in 1955, which permitted all counties to levy the one percent tax for the first time on or after April 1, 1956.

Following the enactment of the Bradley-Burns legislation, there was a flurry of incorporations of new cities, as communities acted to share in this new source of revenue.

The new law necessitated the adoption of ordinances by all cities and counties and the formulation of agreements between cities and counties for revenue sharing. It would take more than five years for statewide compliance.

The Board reported that by December 1961, all of California’s 58 counties and 375 cities had adopted local sales tax ordinances.96

94 Report of the State Board of Equalization 1945-46, p. 2.

95 Report of the State Board of Equalization 1953-54, p. 4.

96 Report of the State Board of Equalization 1960-61, p. 28.