More money for education, investments in infrastructure, significant public debt reduction – and $203 million worth of tax cuts. Sounds good. But is it too good to be true?

Maybe not. Gov. Paul LePage outlined his 2012-2013 budget to a joint session of the Legislature on Thursday, insisting he can deliver all that and more, while also providing assistance for truly needy Maine residents and avoiding mass layoffs and furlough days for the state’s work force.

The budget must be approved by the Legislature, and the Appropriations Committee will hold public hearings on it later this month.

As he often does, the governor delivered his message in general terms, avoiding specifics and detailed explanations of his proposals. Budget experts from LePage’s office were expected to offer some nuts and bolts today in a briefing for members of the news media.

We eagerly await the details, but the broad outlines were more encouraging than Le-Page’s pre-speech comments had led us to expect. The governor had said that parts of his plan would be painful and joked that he’d need to leave town right after the speech.

Certainly, there will be pain – primarily in the form of changes in the pension system for state workers and reform of the welfare system.

To help reduce the state’s $4.4 billion unfunded pension liability, LePage wants retirees to forgo cost-of-living increases for two years and to cap increases at 2 percent in future years. He also proposes raising the retirement age to 65; the current retirement age is 62.

To cut welfare costs, the governor wants to eliminate “welfare on day one” for legal non-citizens, limit welfare eligibility to five years and require MaineCare patients to share the cost of health benefits.

But wage earners and businesses stand to benefit from LePage’s budget through a reduction of the top income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent. He said the reduction will provide tax savings to 240,000 Maine families.

Perhaps the trickiest part of Le-Page’s plan – and one that cries out for a detailed explanation – is his proposal to finance road and bridge repairs without adding to the state’s debt.

“We plan to use savings at the Department of Transportation and general fund dollars rather than borrowing to ensure we make critical infrastructure investments,” the governor  said.

“And we have no plans to borrow in order to finance land acquisition, facility improvements or anything else. If the question is cash or credit, the answer is always the same,” LePage said.

The use of bonded indebtedness has been a staple of Maine’s infrastructure and capital improvement policy over the years. That practice, along with other borrowing, has contributed to a public debt that LePage said totals $12.9 billion.

“We owe twice as much in debt as we expect to collect in general fund revenues over the next two years,” the governor said. If the state were a private business, he said, it would have to file for bankruptcy.

Reducing the state’s debt is an important goal, but so is improving the state’s infrastructure. Both are critical to the governor’s top priority: improving Maine’s business climate.

If he can accomplish both, he will go a long way toward compiling a record of achievement that will impress voters – especially if he can embellish his resume with tax cuts, pension reform and welfare reform.

If he can’t, LePage will learn, as some of his predecessors have, that promises made in a new governor’s first budget are sometimes hard to keep.