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Gov. Bill Haslam chats with a group of judges outside a meeting room after speaking to about 170 judges attending the Tennessee Judicial Conference on Wednesday June 14, 2011 in Chattanooga. Tenn. (AP Photo by Bill Poovey)

BILL POOVEY, Associated Press

It will take several years for Tennessee state government to fully recover from the economic recession, Gov. Bill Haslam told state judges Wednesday.

Haslam said he is encouraged that there is even slow revenue growth after three years of decline. He told the Tennessee Judicial Conference there is still about $160 million in one-time federal stimulus money in the state's leaner $30.5 billion budget just approved for fiscal 2012.

"It will take to 2014 to get revenues where they were in 2007," the governor said.

Revenue figures released earlier this month showed the state has had 14 straight months of growth in sales tax collections. During the Great Recession, Tennessee posted its first ever full year of negative revenue growth in fiscal year 2008-09.

Haslam told about 170 judges at the conference that he "had some great successes" in his Republican administration's first legislative session, such as making it tougher for teachers to get tenure, changing the charter school law and helping block a push to have voters pick state Supreme Court and appeals court judges in contested elections. The governor said the existing system of selecting judges may need to be clarified constitutionally but judges shouldn't have to go through statewide election campaigns.

During last year's gubernatorial campaign, Haslam said he favors keeping the current system in which the governor appoints justices and appeals judges who later stand in yes-no retention elections. Opponents of the system contend language in the state constitution requires that all judges be elected by state voters.

"A system based on merit is the right way to do it," he said.

Haslam said he also favors the existing system of having the state Supreme Court pick the attorney general instead of putting that office on the ballot.

Haslam told the judges he has learned that he has "two different lives" as governor, one when the Legislature is in session.

"I had no idea how much time would be taken up when the General Assembly is in town," he said.

Haslam said Wednesday was the "5 month anniversary" of his administration. He joked that it "seems a lot longer than that."

"You get used to living in public housing, very nice public housing," he told the casually dressed judges.

The three-day judicial conference includes discussions such as judicial ethics rules, a visit to Children's Hospital at Erlanger and a trip to the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton for lunch and a Scopes Trial tour and storytelling.

The governor, who received standing ovations from the judges when he arrived and finished his remarks, said he was returning from a business recruiting trip to Atlanta where he met Tuesday with top executives of companies that have operations in Tennessee, site selection consultants and consulate representatives. He declined to identify the companies.