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There's nothing necessarily wrong with aspirational goals: They say something about what we hope to become. Even if we understand that we might never get to the final goal, we recognize that there's a measure of valor in the attempt.

Oregon is good at coming up with this sort of aspiration; the state, bless its heart, dreams big. We're not always as good at identifying the resources needed to reach those goals. But without even considering that question of resources, the act of goal-setting becomes futile, even cynical.

Consider, for example, the state's commitment to have every adult Oregonian have a high school diploma by the year 2025. We're inching toward that goal, but we're not going to hit it by 2025 — if ever. And, in the meantime, the state struggles to provide adequate funding to its schools on every level, money that could help schools close in on that goal.

So, in that light, let's consider House Joint Resolution 203, which asks voters to place a universal right to health care in the state's constitution. The measure passed the House on a party-line vote on Tuesday and now moves to the Senate, where it seems likely to pass. If that happens, voters will get the opportunity to weigh in on the matter in the November election. (A copy of the joint resolution is attached to the online version of this editorial.)

We have no beef with the idea that all Oregonians should have access to health care; in fact, it was our worry that some Oregonians might lose that access that finally prompted us, reluctantly, to endorse the health care taxes that were included in Ballot Measure 101.

Here's the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment: "It is the obligation of the state to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, medically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right."

In approving the resolution this week, the House waved off worries from some corners that such a promise, embedded in the constitution, could come with a substantial financial obligation that the state is in no position to meet.

In fact, one of the groups worried about this very point was the League of Women Voters of Oregon, a group not particularly known for holding radical conservative leanings. In a Feb. 5 letter to the House committee that at the time was considering the resolution, the league noted that it supports access to health care at the federal level — but warned that it could be a costly mistake for Oregon to take on the burden alone.

"The state of Oregon has insufficient income to support its current responsibilities and cannot provide the added cost of health care coverage for all its residents at this time," the letter read in part.

Lawyers for the Legislature responded to that worry by saying that the constitutional amendment would only require the state to provide access to "cost-effective, medically appropriate and affordable" health care, not that the state would have to actually provide that health care. If we were in the Legislature, that distinction would not offer much comfort — and there's no guarantee how a court would rule in a lawsuit charging that the state had shirked its constitutional duty.

Some advocates of the constitutional amendment believe that it's a first step toward instituting a single-payer health care system for Oregon. But for the state to move in that direction, without support from the federal government, carries exactly the same risk that the League of Women Voters identified.

Assuming the Senate approves the resolution, we can look forward to a vigorous debate later this year about the amendment. The debate inevitably will be dominated with pronouncements about the common good. But voters should be sure to dig into the details behind this particular aspiration. (mm)


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