The nation's mayors praised the tone and criticized the substance of the incoming Carter administration yesterday.

Meeting here at their annual midwinter conference, the mayors found fault with President-elect Jimmy Carter's pending economic package on grounds that it devotes too much money to tax reduction and not enough to job-creation and public works programs.

Newark Mayor Kenneth A. Gibson, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said he was "extremely disappointed" with the direction of the economic plan and hoped that it could be changed before it is formally submitted to Congress two weeks from now.

Other mayors also voiced their concern at meetings with nine high-ranking prospective members of the Carter administration who addressed the conference.

One of the most bluntly worded comments came from Mayor Janet Gray Hayes of San Jose during a presentation by W. Michael Blumenthal, the Secretary of the Treasury-designate.

"I see the people standing on the unemployment lines when I go to work, they approach me when I go shopping, they call me on my hot line," Hayes said. "We are not here as beggars with a tin cup. We are coming to you as elected officials of the places where 75 per cent of the people are . . . The situation is getting worse everywhere."

Another California mayor, George Moscone of San Francisco, said afterward that Blumenthal's presentation concerned itself almost solely with the concerns of the business community and not the jobless.

Moscone said he hoped the Carter administration would move toward making present job-creation programs in the cities permanent and also push for a year-round youth employment program.

Ironically, it was the Republican mayors who seemed most pleased with the Carter economic package.

"It's so closely related to the Ford package that it doesn't seem like there will be much of a change," said Cleveland Mayor Ralph Perk.

Carter has proposed a two-year $23 billion-to-$30 billion economic package that would include up to $11 billion in tax rebates on 1976 federal income taxes. Only $2 billion of the funds spent in this fiscal year would be used for job creation, far less than most of the cities want.

However, $5 billion to $8 billion would be used for job creation programs in fiscal 1978, which starts Oct. 1.

Blumenthal and Stuart E. Eizenstat, domestic policy assistant to the President-elect, defended the Carter package, saying that some immediate stimulus is necessary in the form of tax rebates that would be quickly spent.

Businessmen, said Blumenthal, want to "hear the ring of the cash register."

Eizenstat received a standing ovation after his luncheon speech and Gibson said he was more favorably disposed to the Carter economic plan after hearing the presentation.

Many of the 125 mayors in attendance praised Carter for sending so many of his designated Cabinet officials to the conference. Seven designated Cabinet members plus Eizenstat and presidential assistant Jack Watson addressed the conference.

All pledged that the White House would be open to the mayors, and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young said that the attention being paid to the conference was proof that Carter meant what he said when he promised to be accessible to local government officials.

As an indication that their talk about worsening conditions in the cities is more than rhetoric, the mayors disclosed the results of a survey questionnaire of 283 cities. It showed that 61 per cent of these cities had reduced the municipal work force in 1976 because of economic problems. Fifty-four per cent of the cities had deferred capital expenditures, 40 per cent had increased taxes and 31 per cent had service cutbacks in addition to personnel layoffs.