A funny thing happened on the way to President Reagan's much vaunted ''new federalism.'' While the administration has been fighting its battle of the budget, Capitol Hill has been quietly flooded with an unprecedented number of bills which would in some way preempt state authority.
These bills have been summarized in a report just released by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which is trying to marshal state's rights proponents to oppose this legislative trend.
''It's not generally recognized how much preemptive legislation is floating around the Hill,'' says Earl S. Mackey, executive director of the NCSL. Instead attention has been centered almost exclusively on the fiscal aspects of the administration's programs.
Daniel J. Elazar, director of Temple University's Center for the Study of Federalism, has observed that the balance of power in the United States federal system moves in a predictable cycle, swinging between periods of intense federal activity and periods of innovation by the states. According to this federalism expert, the nation should be moving into an era where the power shifts to the states.
This natural swing is being impeded by another trend within US society, Mr. Mackey suggests. ''I believe there is more preemptive legislation today than in the past because there is more reason for it . . . because of the economic centralization which we have been experiencing. Business interests want federal legislation because they now have national markets,'' he explains.