President-elect Ronald Reagan promised the GOP governors tonight that he would transfer control over social programs and the money to operate them to the states.

Reagan's telephoned message was cheered and applauded by the governors, who at the time were attending a cocktail party in a cramped room of the Philadelphia Academy of Music.

The president-elect told them he intended to end the "very foolish and complicated" system of sending back to the states "your money with strings attached."

"I couldn't be more delighted to read what you plan because it was what I would like to implement from this end and that is to reinstate this nation as a federation of sovereign states," Reagan said in his message from Washington, where he is spending the week.

Reagan's words hardly came as a surprise; they were a theme of his campaign and were stated here earlier today by Vice President-elect George Bush and James Baker, who will become Reagan's White House chief of staff.

One axiom of national politics is that big-city mayors are always after more federal money, while governors -- as a group, far more comfortable fiscally -- want more power and less interference from Washington.

The National Governors Association, which includes Democrats as well as Republicans, has set a goal for this year of regaining powers the governors believe the states have lost in the last decade -- a campaign they call "resurgent federalism."

President Carter's dealings with local officials have been principally with mayors, and he has targeted millions of dollars in aid to urban areas.

The GOP governors' meeting here, planned before the Nov. 4 election as something of strategy session for a revolt against the Democrats, has taken on a vastly different tone and mood as a result of Reagan's victory.

The governors have marveled at the size of Reagan's victory margin, the fact that in the next session of Congress Republicans will control the Senate, and the swelling of their own ranks to at total of 23.

What has not been detailed is how a Reagan administration will go about transferring power and money back to the states. In his brief telephone speech tonight, Reagan provided no details. Bush said earlier that the president-elect wanted the views of the governors, who have yet to come up with a blueprint for a "new federalism," although it has been on their agenda since the National Governors Association meeting in Denver in August.

On another subject, Bush said today that he expects as vice president to spend much time on Capitol Hill trying to build strong ties between the Republican administration and Congress.

Commenting on the pending GOP control of the Senate, Bush said: "That means we will be able to take the offense. I'll tell you, we've been playing defense all the time."