Reading about the government's efforts to rescue the real estate market in Austin {front page, Jan. 3} reminded me of how little debate there's been on how the $500 billion-plus cost of the nationwide S&L bailout should be paid. The assumption seems to be that the federal income taxpayer will foot most of the bill. But this is not inevitable, nor is it fair.

The S&L bailout is no more nor less than an additional enormous government subsidy to the real estate industry -- on top of the billions of dollars the industry already receives through mortgage interest tax relief and other measures. Before the real estate slump, many economists believed that government support of the real estate industry was already too large -- encouraging over-investment in property to the detriment of investment in other industries and sowing the seeds of the recent real estate boom and collapse.

The people who will benefit from this subsidy should foot the bill for it -- those who make their money in real estate -- not the income taxpayers. One possibility would be to add a "bailout surcharge" to property taxes to recover the cost of the S&L rescue over a period of several years. This would not only put the onus of the bailout on the primary beneficiaries, but it would also moderate future increases in real estate prices. ROBIN BROADFIELD Bethesda