An increase in federal excise taxes on cigarettes, gasoline and alcohol could leave financially strapped state governments "teetering on the brink" of budgetary collapse, according to state legislators from around the country.

The state officials have been lobbying congressional leaders and have sent a letter to President Bush asking them to abandon any plan to raise the so-called "sin taxes" as part of a deficit-reduction agreement.

Such an increase, the lawmakers said, could cost state governments $4.4 billion in lost revenues during the next five years.

"The efforts of current budget talks and the bipartisan summit {in} discussing increasing excise taxes or eliminating the deductability of local taxes will severely harm the states of the union today," said Lee A. Daniels (R), the minority leader of the Illinois House and the president of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Such increases would cut into state revenues because consumers would purchase fewer goods as prices rise, according to a study conducted by the Peat Marwick policy economics group and commissioned by NCSL.

States that are forced by law to balance their budgets, Daniels said, could not afford to absorb the loss.

"We rely heavily on excise taxes, gas taxes in order to meet our revenue needs as states," Daniels said.

"If the federal government attacks these resources, these stable resources . . . they will literally destroy the ability of our states to balance our budgets."

The study based its findings on a deficit-reduction plan submitted by House Ways and Means chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) that would raise the gas tax from 9 to 15 cents per gallon and double the taxes on beer and cigarettes.

The states that would be hardest hit, according to the study, would be Texas, California, Illinois and Ohio, where the biggest loss would come from any increase in the gasoline tax.

Governors and state lawmakers have long complained that they have been forced to assume the cost of increased federal program mandates at a time when local revenues are on the decline.

Previous reports have shown that many states, especially in the Northeast, have been paring their budgets back or expanding only enough to continue ongoing programs.

"We have borne that burden in the past," Daniels said. "It is time that the federal government stops looking at state resources in an effort to eliminate the deficit problem."

Daniels, who acknowledged that federal deficit reduction is an important national goal, had few suggestions to offer on where the White House and congressional budget negotiators should look for savings. He suggested that federal spending should be reduced first.

State-federal partnerships are important, Daniels said, but should not be abused. "We are a partnership, but we don't expect the federal government to consistently look to us to balance their deficit problem," he said.