CORRECTION: THE NAME OF THE CARLISLE BOROUGH COUNCIL PRESIDENT IS INCORRECT IN THIS STORY. IT SHOULD BE FRANK RANKIN.
Efforts to keep The Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle suffered a symbolic defeat last night as the state House voted 130-68 against a plan that would have tied a small portion of Penn State's state funding to its law school remaining in Carlisle. The amendment sponsored by Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny, would have shaved $2 million from Penn State's $239.4 million earmarked for general expenses and placed it in a new line item for the law school's operations. The amount was based on estimates of the difference between the law school's tuition receipts and operational expenses.
Penn State, however, could transfer the funds back into its general expense line as long as the law school stays in Carlisle.
Maher and other supporters offered the bill to send a message that legislators do not approve of Penn State President Graham Spanier's efforts to lure the 170-year-old law school to State College with the promise of $60 million in funding for a state-of- the-art facility there.
Rep. Will Gabig, R-Carlisle, noting the estimated $20 million economic impact the move would have on the Carlisle area, called on colleagues to tell the taxpayer-funded university's administration that "the people's representatives should have something to say about that."
But opponents argued that the Legislature should stay out of the decision.
"In the interest of fairness you can't possibly vote for this amendment," said Rep. Tom Stevenson, R-Allegheny, noting the 1997 merger agreement between Penn State and the law school ultimately places any decision about relocation with Dickinson's Board of Governors.
"We shouldn't penalize an institution that we've created [Penn State], and we shouldn't stick our legislative noses into something that we should really stay out of to begin with. It's really up to Dickinson to control their destiny, not Penn State," he said.
Maher's proposal was purely symbolic -- the law school will operate in Carlisle for the 2004-05 fiscal year no matter what.
But Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Shippensburg, called the appropriations bill the wrong place for relocation opponents to make their stand.
?The decision today is whether you take much-needed dollars for public higher education ... and punish the entire state university for a potential action?? that might occur, Coy said.
The proposal for a new law school campus was outlined in a November memo from law school Dean Philip McConnaughay, who warned that Dickinson risks a continued slide in national rankings unless it improves its physical setting and opportunities for students.
Carlisle and midstate leaders protested, citing estimates the region could lose more than 200 jobs and $20 million in net community spending if the law school left. Board of Governors task forces are exploring options ranging from relocating to State College to rebuilding in Carlisle.
Maher, however, called the 68 votes garnered last night a starting point that relocation opponents can build upon during debate over the law school's future.
Maher's proposal was one of dozens to be considered this week as the House opens preliminary debate on Gov. Ed Rendell's $22.7 billion state budget proposal.
Last night's vote does not affect a proposal by Sen. Hal Mowery, R-Cumberland, authorizing Rendell to allocate up to $34 million in state capital funding for development of a new law school facility in Carlisle. That bill is pending in the Senate.
Carlisle Borough Council President Steve Fishman said Mowery's proposal will likely be far more relevant to the Dickinson board's final decision. Fishman added the House vote can't be taken as a measure of support for funding to keep the law school in Carlisle because of many lawmakers' objections to Maher's approach.