Call us surprised. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa must have seen all the unflattering press and realized how bad it looked that the City Council couldn't cut one penny from the city's $218 million deficit as the city amasses $338,000 a day in red ink. On Thursday afternoon he turned around and ordered those 1,000 city layoffs that the rest of the council couldn't muster.

Under the mayor's proposal 360 of those 1,000 could seek jobs elsewhere in the city. But it's not clear how much power is behind a mayoral “order.” The council might still have to improve the move and, clearly, its a council that wants nothing to do with tough decisions. (The mayor states that he has authority to take “immediate action” on the budget). “We are living beyond our means and have difficult choices to make,” Villaraigosa said Thursday.

In fact, on Wednesday the council not only backed off proposed layoffs and department closures in an effort to deal with the deficit — it actually added another $4 million in red ink to the books.

This as the city will come perilously close to bankruptcy come the new fiscal year in July: City Hall will not only have to figure out a way to erase that $218 million hole, but it will be faced with a new tide of red ink for 2010-11 that will be worth nearly $500 million. Fun.

On Thursday the mayor also asked the City Council approve allowing city employees to retire without the usual one or two-month advanced notice, and wants the body to transfer $40 million in uncommitted funds to the city's main account to deal with the deficit.

We've been hard on the mayor, and he seems to be coming late to this party (remember, he was in Europe for nine days last month, at taxpayer expense), but we'll give props where they're due. It's time for leadership.

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