Buoyed by passage of a tax bill that will reduce federal revenues drastically, President Reagan today called for "another great revolution and experiment" to return federal authority to state governments systematically.
"With our economic proposals, we are staging a quiet federalist revolution," Reagan said in a speech to the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It is a revolution that promises to be one of the most exciting and noteworthy in our generation."
The response to his speech also was relatively quiet, but the audience laughed heartily when Reagan said, in reference to his victory Wednesday on Capitol Hill, "I don't know who's happiest about yesterday's events, me or Prince Charles."
The president said his budget cutbacks have strengthened federalism because, "Without a structural shift of this kind, there is little hope for a long-term resistance to the burgeoning of federal powers."
He also praised his administration's attempts to combine more than 50 categorical grants into five block grants, although he acknowledged that Congress had given the states less authority than the administration had sought.
Reagan promised to press for additional state flexibility, "leading to the day when you will have not only the responsibility for progrfams that properly belong at the state level but you'll have the tax sources now usurped by Washington returned to you, ending that round trip of the people's money to Washington and back, minus a carrying charge.
"Today, the federal government takes too much taxes from the people, too much authority from the states and too much liberty with the Constitution," the president said. He maintained that in the past 40 years federalism "has nearly disappeared as a guiding force in American government" but would not be restored.
"My administration is committed, heart and soul, to hte principles of American federalism, which are outlined in the original Federalist Papers of Hamilton, Madison and Jay," Reagan said to applause from the legislators.
His speech was peppered with examples of state and local government initiatives he said had outstripped the federal government. He joked that he would like to turn Amtrak over to the city of San Diego, which recently opened a 16-mile trolley line built without federal assistance. And he claimed credit for signing, as governor of California, a clean air act more stringent than the federal goverment's at the time.
Almost as an afterthought, in the last paragraph of his speech, the president mentioned that there are "legitimate and very important functions" for the federal government to perform.
Two that he noted are maintaining national security and protecting "the constitutional rights of even the least individual among us if that person's rights are being unjustly denied."
Despite his happiness about congressional action on his tax program, the president showed some sensitivity about press accounts of the way he obtained the victory.
"There was much in the news about lobbying, arm-twisting and every kind of pressure, but what really sold the bill was the lobbying of the American people," Reagan said."They contacted their elected representatives in Washington and made it plain they were ready to chart a new course to get this country moving again."
Afterward, at a $500-a-person reception to aid the Georgia GOP, Reagan said it is now the responsibility of his administration and those who had supported his economic program to see that it works.
"All of us must make sure that what we call the safety net remains," Reagan said. "No one must fall between the cracks."
There was a momentary commotion after Air Force One arrived back at Andrews Air Force Base. Shortly after the doors to the plane opened, the truck on which the front stairs were mounted backfired loudly.
People scattered, Air Force officers gestured to people in the plane not to come out and one Secret Service agent dropped to half crouch and put his hand to his holster before it was realized that the noise was a backfire. The president apparently was unaware of the fuss.