President Bush's pledge in his State of the Union speech to turn over $15 billion in federal programs to state governments touched off a frenzy of optimism and worry in state capitals yesterday.

Although Bush said the new state-administered programs would continue to be "fully funded" by the federal government, it remained unclear to state officials and members of Congress yesterday what form the president's promise will take when his 1992 budget is released next week.

"We welcome the president's proposal to give the states more flexibility to manage state-federal programs, but we cautiously await the specifics of this plan," said John Martin, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives and president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Senior officials who briefed reporters on the contents of the president's speech Tuesday declined to elaborate on the specific programs Bush would include in what is being described as a new block grant for state governments.

Bush's move echoes a similar effort by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 to strip 40 programs from the federal budget and turn them over to state control, a plan he called "New Federalism." Reagan proposed that states assume control over food stamps and welfare programs in exchange for the federal government's taking full responsibility for the joint state-federal Medicaid program. The proposal did not win congressional approval.

Much of the nervousness then -- and now -- stemmed from governors' and state legislatures' worries that the federal government would gradually decrease its commitment to paying for the programs.

Bush said his budget will include a $20 billion list of programs that could be better administered at the state level. He proposed that Congress and the governors work to select $15 billion in programs from the list.

"It moves power and decision-making closer to the people," he said. "And it reinforces a theme of this administration: appreciation and encouragement of the innovative power of 'States as Laboratories.' "

White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu and budget director Richard G. Darman are scheduled to brief several governors on the contents of the budget proposal Saturday, as the National Governors' Association begins its winter meeting here.

Now, however, state government representatives and ranking members of Congress are baffled by which of the hundreds of categories of aid to state and local governments the president may be targeting for consolidation at the state level.

"It's very easy to say that they {state governments} are closer to the people, but I don't think as a general rule we would say that every local program in every city is the best administered in the country simply because it's at a local level," said House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.). "I mean, that's sort of a warm thought, but it isn't our practical experience."

"It strikes me {that} all they're doing is rearranging the furniture with this proposal," said Brad Johnson, Washington counsel to New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D).

Rae Bond, spokeswoman for the National Governors' Association, said the governors have suggested to White House budget officials which programs, ranging from health care to education, could best be delegated to the states.

The federal government also awards categorical grants to states for environmental, surface transportation, agriculture and welfare reform programs.

"In concept it sounds good," Bond said of the president's remarks. "But it depends on what the specific impact is and the regional effects."