Don Pereira, Senior Fish Biologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, testified before a working group studying the walleye problem on Lake Mille Lacs. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr at left. Tom Scheck | MPR News

Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration is seeking a financial package worth as much as $20 million to help resort owners affected by the state’s decision to close walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs.

As a preliminary step, a legislative working group met Tuesday to discuss the Department of Natural Resources’ decision to end the walleye season Monday night.

Dayton’s commissioners also outlined several alternatives including low interest loans, unemployment assistance, property tax breaks and increased marketing to let visitors know that Mille Lacs has more to offer than walleye.

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben suggested one option is giving zero interest loans to resort owners that operate within 15 miles of the lake.

“There [are] 112 tourism and hospitality related businesses within that 15 mile radius,” she said. “If we, as one example, offered zero percent interest loans up to $100,000, it could roughly be a $10 million package.”

Several lawmakers expressed reluctance about a special session, as Dayton has said he wants to approve the aid. Working group co-chair Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, said at the outset he was not in favor of calling the legislature back.

“Hopefully we can come together and work out some solutions without having a special session. That’s what I would like to see,” Hackbarth said.

The other co-chair of the working group, Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, asked whether Minnesota Management and Budget could authorize financial assistance without legislative approval.

“We respect the authority that the Legislature gives us,” MMB Commissioner Myron Frans said. “The Legislature doesn’t give us a lot of authority to spend money without direct appropriations.”

Lawmakers on the working group spent most of the afternoon session asking sharp questions of Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr and state fisheries chief Don Pereira. Several asked why the DNR had to close the Mille Lacs now to walleye fishing rather than keep it open for the remaining month of the summer season. They also wanted to know why the DNR took the step this year when fish drop-off appeared to be as dramatic in past years.

They also asked whether stocking the lake with walleye is being considered.

“It would be nice if we never need [stocking] in Mille Lacs,” said Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitken. “We really need to be looking and hedging out bets here long-term.”

Natural Resources officials told legislators they are looking at options to stock the lake quickly, if needed. They also said they’re studying the cormorant population on the lake to see if the birds are taking young walleyes.

Commissioner Landwehr said there are no simple solutions to fix the walleye shortage on Mille Lacs. He said the problems with the walleye population have been occurring for several years.

“It has often felt like a slow moving accident,” Landwehr said. “But this year it really came to a head when we exceeded the quota.”

The working group is scheduled to meet again Wednesday.

A new poll of Minnesota voters finds a tight race for the Republican presidential nomination in the state.

The poll by Public Policy Polling found that 19 percent of those surveyed favored Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, while 18 percent favored businessman Donald Trump and 15 percent supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson had the backing of 11 percent of the respondents.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton had 50 percent support while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had 32 percent. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley polled at 4 percent.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 1,015 registered voters, including 426 Democratic primary voters and 353 Republican primary voters from July 30 to Aug. 2. The margin of error for the overall survey is +/-3.1 percent, for the Democrats it’s +/-4.9 percent, and for the Republicans it’s +/-5.2 percent.

In a head to head match-up, Clinton had a small lead over her Republican opponents. Clinton had a 1 percentage point lead over Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (43/42) and has a 2 point lead in head to head match-ups with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Clinton had a 4  point lead over Walker.

The survey also finds that all of the candidates in both parties have higher unfavorable than favorable ratings, with the exception of Bernie Sanders whom 30 percent view favorably and 29 percent view unfavorably.

Forty-eight percent of those polled disapproved of President Obama’s job performance while 44 percent approved of the job he’s doing.

PPP’s Pollster Tom Jensen said the Minnesota contest for the White House appears to be more in line with 2004. That year, President George W. Bush was running against Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Bush spent significant resources in Minnesota with the hopes of winning the state but Kerry won by 3 percentage points.

Hillary Clinton is going to make the most of her time in Minnesota later this month.

Clinton has added a high dollar fundraiser to her schedule on Aug. 28. She’s also scheduled to appear at the Democratic National Committee’s Summer Meetings in Minneapolis on that day.

Clinton’s fundraiser, which was announced Tuesday, will be held at the Wayzata home of Dean Phillips. Phillips is the chair of the board of The United States Distilled Products Company. He also served as CEO of the company founded by his family.

The minimum contribution to attend the event is $500. Event hosts are being asked to raise $50,000.

Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are all scheduled to appear at the DNC’s “cattle call” at noon on Aug. 28 in Minneapolis.

This will be Clinton’s second stop in Minnesota. She held a private fundraiser in June.

Sanders held two public events and several fundraisers in Minnesota in May.

O’Malley has not held any public events in Minnesota since announcing his campaign.