The city, plagued by one of the highest property tax rates in the nation, sued the state of Massachusetts yesterday for a hefty reimnursement of revenue it loses on tax-exempt property - about 61 percent of the land here.

A full assessment on tax-exempt institutions - churches, universities and, mostly, a government facilities - would bring an additional $100 million annually into the city coffers, Boston's corporation cunsel Herbert Gleason said.

"If the state reinbursed us just barely for the tax-exempt land we give to institutions, then the tax rate in this city would drop almost $100 per thousand dollars of evaluation overnight and there would be no need for immediate tax reform in the city," Mayor Kevin H. White told reporters on the steps of the State Mouse.

The current tax rate is $252.90 per thousand, most properties are not assessed at full market value.

Gleason said the suit has national implications: "If we're sucessful I think will be tried in every state in the country."

The suit is similar to one by the city of New Haven in which Connecticut, settling out of court, agreed to a reimbursement formula based in part on the amount of non-taxable property in each city and town.

The Boston suit would apply political pressure on the state by asking the court to declare tax exemptions unconstitutional unless the legislature approved a more equitable system of reimnursement.

"Originally the reason these institutions were allowed to be tax-exenpt was because . . . their presence would benefit the community," Mayor White said, "But . . . today they are no longer a benefit - they are burden."

Harvard University vice president Michael Brewer attacked the mayor's charges, saying. "The city benefits mightily from thsee tax-exempt institutions, which perform very important public and quasi-social roles. The tenor and economic enviroment of the city is enchanced greatly by these institutions."

Brewer acknowledge that Harvard and several other universities have endorsed the concept of a new state aid plan geared to compensate for disproportionate amounts of tax-exempt properties. However, he declined to endorsed the suit.

Speaking for the Catholic archdiocese in Boston, Rev. Michael F. Groden called the city's suit "a very tricky political issue." He refused further comment until the church reads the lengthly legal document.

The diocese, in its first overt political step in modern history has endorsed a referendum question on the November ballot to provide a tax classification amendment to the state constitution - a move heavily pushed by the mayor's forces.

The measure would allow business and industrail property to be taxed at a higher rate than residential land. Without classification, Groden said, "People will have much higher tax bills, and taxes are already staggering."

Michael Donovan, a spokesman for the mgayor, said the decision to file the tax exemption suit two weeks before the election was not designed to influence the vote on classification.